Every organization has a set of goals and objectives that it plans to achieve over a period of time. The time taken by an organization to achieve these goals and the way of achieving them is influenced by a number of factors, ranging from the business culture, the diversity in skill sets of employees, leadership tactics, and strategic management.

Deliberate (pre-defined) strategies and emergent (undefined) strategies are significant components of strategic management tools that organizations use to achieve their goals and realize their objectives. Although there are several differences between these strategies, organizations can successfully fulfil their goals by using either one of them (according to their requirements, of course.)

In this article, we will discuss what undefined strategies and pre-defined strategies stand for, how are they different from each other, and in what scenarios they should be used. Let’s begin.

What is Pre-Defined Strategy?

Also known as deliberate strategy and planned strategy, pre-defined strategy is an approach to strategic planning that focuses on “intention” or “purpose” of the business. As a top-down approach, it is built on the mission and vision of a company. Hence, the initiative of implementing change needs to be taken by the top management.

As the top management of an organization commits to implement a pre-defined strategy, the first objective should be to achieve goal congruence which can be done by clearly communicating business goals to employees, motivating them, having brainstorming sessions with them, and discussing every step to ensure thorough understanding.

By “deliberately” choosing to be different, organizations reduce the external influences on their internal business operations with the help of deliberate or pre-defined strategy. Leaders can achieve a lot with favourable market conditions and competent internal capacities. But, the influence of unpredictable external factors like political, social, natural, and economic scenarios cannot be reduced instantly. So, they must plan and prepare for the potential challenges that may arise. This can be done by analysing the scenarios thoroughly and retrieving actionable insights to consider.

When should you use a pre-defined/deliberate strategy?

A deliberate strategy is generated from thoughtful and organized action taken by businesses. It is formulated after a meticulous analysis of metrics like market growth, customer needs, competitors’ strengths, segment size, competitors’ weaknesses, and technological orientations.

Therefore, a pre-defined/deliberate strategy is suitable to be employed by large businesses, corporations, and organizations that have hit a certain level of stability and have established themselves within their preferred markets. The work experience, considerable clientele, and available of data on hand enable organizations to formulate a robust, well-researched, and well-structured long-term strategy for management. For its success, it is important that, starting from the top and going toward the bottom, every employee understands the objective of implementing it and works for it accordingly.

What is Undefined Strategy?

Also known as emergent strategy, realized strategy, and unplanned strategy, undefined strategy includes the identification of unforeseen outcomes of implementing a strategy and then incorporating those outcomes into future plans. As a bottom-up approach to management, it is a direct result of efforts and initiatives taken by individual contributors like engineers, middle managers, etc.

Undefined strategy is flexible. As the business environment keeps changing constantly, along with political and social environments, flexibility is crucial to management so that businesses can benefit from various opportunities. Undefined strategy offers flexibility, which is why it is usually preferred by leaders over pre-planned strategy.

When should you use an undefined/emergent strategy?

Being a product of spontaneous and unplanned innovation within an organization, undefined or emergent strategy is highly flexible, which allows organizations to adjust their goals according to the situations and priorities that arise as they progress.

So, undefined strategy is suitable for businesses in their earliest stages (such as start-ups) or the ones with an uncertain future. Organizations that are unaware of their long-term goals can successfully leverage emergent strategy until they have enough data available to implement a pre-defined strategy. Leveraging an undefined strategy when the competitive landscape is changing substantially is highly useful too.

For success, it is important to ensure that all employees have been enabled to innovate and be creative.

What are the major differences between Undefined and Pre-Defined Strategy?

The two major differences between undefined and pre-defined strategy lie in their:

  1. Approach to Management
  • Undefined Strategy – It follows a bottom-up approach, which implies that the strategy is implemented at the bottom levels of the organization first. It is a product of spontaneous innovation done by mid-level managers, engineers, sales people, etc., before being implemented by the top-level management of the organization.
  • Pre-Defined Strategy – It follows a top-down approach, which implies that initiative is first taken by the top-level management of an organization before reaching the bottom levels.
  1. Flexibility
  • Undefined Strategy – It offers high flexibility as it allows organizations to take actions by incorporating the unforeseen outcomes and adjust their business goals as situations come up.
  • Pre-Defined Strategy – It takes a much rigid approach as compared to undefined strategy, which is why it is much less flexible.


Strategic management is a crucial aspect of every organization. It differs from one organization to another, and among organizations of different sizes as well. Although businesses can adopt either of the two approaches for formulating their strategies, it is important to understand which strategy can benefit them in the best way possible. This can be done by a thorough understanding of their organization’s existing scenarios, and then evaluating their requirements with the strategies.