Given the increased globalization of business, along with new technologies and other global risks, many company executives are under ever greater pressure to respond to the rapid pace of change in business by innovating their organization’s strategy. A number of executive education courses have emerged to help senior business leaders to think strategically — defined as the ability to anticipate threats and explore new opportunities facing the organization.
The Strategy Programme at Henley Business School in the UK, for example, helps participants devise and implement strategies that can create lasting competitive advantage. “Change and the pace of change are increasing relentlessly and therefore, the requirements for strategy, and strategic thinking that goes with it, become both more critical and onerous,” says Jeff Callander, the program’s director.
However, he says that strategic thinking cannot be an independent exercise devoid from the staff and other stakeholders whom the strategy is supposed to influence and motivate to achieve the goals and vision of the business. “It takes a cooperative effort between the organization’s stakeholders to ensure that within the strategy there is insight, creativity and rigor while also ensuring agility and resilience,” Callander says.
Therefore, leaders need to consider a wide set of elements such as the organization’s culture and employee engagement when making strategic choices. “Often it takes a good crisis to show the failings of organizations and their management. This has become particularly evident with management failures exposed since the pandemic. It is time to re-imagine strategy,” he adds.
On Henley’s course, participants will develop leadership capabilities and use their understanding of strategy to influence the board and executive team. Then, the participants will develop strategic initiatives that drive the business and use strategy to provide clear leadership and direction to staff and stakeholders.
“Depending on their role, they might become a key strategy architect in their business, using insight as a foundation for sustainable strategies,” says Callander. “This means they should be equipped to tear down the silos and barriers to success in the organization by developing the vision of how the organization can become a high value part of the customer’s value chain, increasing profitability.”
For those who want to think strategically, there are many options
A number of business schools run these outcomes-focused courses, such as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which puts on Strategic Thinking, a live-online course that explores digital technology trends in particular. South Methodist University’s Cox School of Business offers Strategic Thinking For Competitive Advantage, a two-day program with the tools and network to help executives be a more powerful force in their firm.
In Europe, IMD Business School of Switzerland runs the Strategy Execution program, which focuses on how to build a compelling vision for transformation, pick the right team members, and the best ideas. INSEAD has its Competitive Strategy program in France, which focuses on turning strategic ideas into action.
Strategy is a leadership tool, not just a thinking process — so many schools incorporate practical learning into their courses on the subject. “Participants are guided to apply the tools and learnings from this course to their own unique challenges through a series of assignments,” says Jared Lee, instructor of the Strategic Problem Solving course at Canada’s McGill Executive Institute.
“Additionally, we use structured reflection prompts and discussions in breakout groups and plenary to draw upon the participants’ lived experiences,” he says.
“Strategy is alive and iterative”
Strategic thinking is an ongoing, iterative process requiring constant communication and collaboration between companies’ top teams. “Organizations too often fall into the trap of only ‘turning on’ that skillset during an annual strategic planning review,” says Lee. “Done well, though, strategy is alive and iterative, anticipating and responding to changing landscapes.”
Moreover, strategic thinking helps participants to solve complex problems, which are ambiguous, nonlinear, and dynamic. “Such complexity demands strategic thinking to make sense of the environment, make choices that involve trade-offs and uncertainty, then learn and iterate as things change on route toward a goal,” Lee says.
The McGill program guides executives through each step of the “4S” method – from how to state, structure, and solve problems to how to sell the solutions. Participants then apply the method and toolkit to a pressing organizational problem they face. They will leave with a greatly improved understanding of how to create value.