Clear and Present Danger: Planning and New Venture Survival Amid Political and Civil Violence

by Shon Hiatt & Wesley Sine

Overview — Strategy theory often takes for granted the role of state institutions in providing stable, predictable environments in which new firms are founded. Yet, many states around the world (such as Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) lack political institutions of sufficient strength to ensure personal safety and public order, thereby creating environments where civil and political violence can ferment. This paper explores the impact of such violence on new venture processes. Results show that comprehensive planning was negatively correlated with venture survival in such environments. While there are implications for strategy theory, the study is also relevant to entrepreneurs and organizations promoting new venture planning in less-developed countries, particularly those experiencing political and civil turmoil. Currently, prospective entrepreneurs are taught the importance of business planning by both universities and non-governmental organizations that offer entrepreneurial training. But this study suggests that such training will have mixed effects on new venture survival, depending on the extent to which these entrepreneurs pursue ventures in violent and uncertain environments. In such contexts where governments fail to maintain public safety and order, these training programs may actually increase the likelihood of new venture failure. Key concepts include:

  • This paper theorizes and tests how contexts characterized by weak political institutions and ensuing high levels of violence create uncertain and unpredictable environments that alter entrepreneurial behavior and disrupt resource flows and organizational routines, thereby increasing new venture failure rates.
  • In contexts of high uncertainty as a result of violence, the benefits of comprehensive planning vanish as prior predictions become obsolete and even harmful to venture survival.
  • Strategy theories often assume specific types of environments. But it is important to consider carefully the macro institutional factors.

Author Abstract

Although entrepreneurs constitute a key economic driving force for many emerging economies, they often face unstable environments due to the failure of governments to maintain civil and political order. Yet, we know very little about how environments characterized by weak institutions and high levels of political and civil violence directly affect new venture survival. Moreover, it is unclear whether standard theories about organizational strategy, such as planning, hold true in such environments. Building upon the institution-based view of strategy and past research on planning, we explore these issues using a sample of 730 new ventures in Colombia from 1997 to 2001. We find that political and civil violence decreases firm survival, increases the benefits of incremental planning, and decreases the benefits of comprehensive planning.

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