Strategic decision-making in SMEs: effectuation, causation, and the absence of strategy

  • Adrian HauserEmail author
  • Fabian Eggers
  • Stefan Güldenberg


Since the early 2000s, effectuation has gained substantial interest in literature. Whereas Sarasvathy in her seminal 2001 article distinguished effectuation from causal decision-making, still effectuation seems to get confused with ad hoc decision-making or strategy absence. On the basis of a qualitative study with 12 managers from 10 Swiss small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), this manuscript analyzes their decision-making approaches and distinguishes between causal, effectual, and absence-of-strategy reasoning. Whereas principles for effectuation and causation are well established, this study reveals new categories on which strategy absence can be mapped. The three decision approaches and their interplay are then investigated in four business contexts (founding, takeover, new artifact creation, and existing artifacts). Whereas causal reasoning is found in all four, signs of strategy absence are apparent in three. Effectual logic dominates all four contexts. Further, this manuscript finds that choice of the strategic decision approach does not depend on company size but rather on decision context. Also, firms demonstrate the ability to switch between effectual and causal decision models according to the specific decision context.


Small and medium-sized enterprises Effectuation Causation Strategy Entrepreneurial decision-making Emergent strategies Absence of strategy 

JEL classification

L10 L26 M13 O31 



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian Hauser
    • 1
    Email author
  • Fabian Eggers
    • 2
  • Stefan Güldenberg
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for EntrepreneurshipUniversity of LiechtensteinVaduzLiechtenstein
  2. 2.Department of MarketingMenlo CollegeAthertonUSA
  3. 3.International Management, Institute for EntrepreneurshipUniversity of LiechtensteinVaduzLiechtenstein

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