Teaching Strategy to Managers

Strategy education is big business.  A cottage industry of training programs and thought leadership is devoted to improving management’s strategic thinking, and for good reason.  A lack of strategic talent within management has become a significant organizational issue that negatively impacts competitiveness, increases employee turnover and hampers morale. This deficit has many causes including extensive downsizing and restructuring, a reduced emphasis on training & mentoring and the accelerated pace of business which limits strategic deliberations. 

My assertion is not that firms don’t have talented strategists or the right tools.  The typical Fortune 500 firm has a number of them.  However, many of these individuals are often in non-strategic roles, are under resourced or are too busy to undertake proper strategy development. As well, available strategic competencies are regularly underutilized due to a shortage of relevant data and tools as well as the lack of a regular strategic planning framework.  Going forward, many factors such as organizational flux, headcount limitations and recruiting challenges will bedevil efforts of cultivating and unleashing strategic talent. Organizations will not prosper unless they have enough managers who can think and act strategically. 

The presence of a strategy skills gap impacts my consulting work directly.  My clients will often require strategy knowledge transfer to their managers in the statement of work. Why?    The executive sponsors will acknowledge that their teams are hampered by strategy skill gaps that prevent them from identifying, analyzing and exploiting business opportunities.

Much of my thinking has been influenced by how the Military teaches strategy to its officers.  Corporations in dynamic, high risk and complex environments can learn much from the way the Military cultivates strategic competencies including continuous learning, situational adaptation and breakthrough innovation.  One monograph in particular, Professor Colin Gray’s Schools for Strategy: Teaching Strategy for 21st Century Conflict (published in the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute), could be helpful for those looking for a first class overview on strategy education in the Military. 

As such, I regularly facilitate and coach senior & middle managers in ‘applied strategy learning’ that encompass areas such as analysis, strategy development and planning. My general approach is to deliver strategy education that is one part proven strategy theory (business, sports and military) and one part “best in class” tools, simulations and sector knowledge, all customized for their real life business challenges.  

My applied strategy learning methodology follows 8 key maxims, which I summarize below-

1.  Education is not a one-off event.   Managers must be encouraged and incentivized to use their new skills and knowledge within their day-to-day jobs;  

2.  The use of time-tested business theory is essential to thinking ‘strategically;’

3.  Although theory is important, strategy development is ultimately a practical exercise and should be tailored to the realities of the organization and market;

4.  To be considered relevant and credible by the student, strategy education should not be left to over-intellectualized educators or those separated from the “trenches;” 

5.  Strategy education that does not emphasize the centrality of the customer and the impact of competition will probably be inadequate;

6.  Strategy education that ignores the importance of internal considerations such as culture and resource limitations will be ineffectual;

7.  A skeptical, though not cynical, mindset of the participants is crucial to imparting wisdom and understanding the value and usage of tools;

8.  Strategy is vital but not the sine non qua of leadership.  Other management responsibilities such as execution and leadership are just as important. 

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


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