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Alumni in Action

EdgeUp: Boost Your Strategic Mindset

By Chris Malina

July 22, 2022

A strong strategy is the key to success in any business—but any strategy is only as good as the leaders who set it. Being able to think strategically, implement the appropriate tactics, and adapt on the fly are all essential pieces of the puzzle, but for new managers (and even some veteran ones), it can be difficult to know where to begin.

During this EdgeUp webinar, WSB’s Adam Bock (MBA ’99) provides the inside scoop on how to get the strategic juices flowing and provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about strategy and strategic thinking.

Just what exactly is strategy?

Ask 10 people to define strategy and you’re likely to receive 10 different answers. While the specifics of strategy may vary from company to company, the term can be generally defined as, “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall goal.” On the flip side, strategy is not a vision statement, mission statement, or a set of values or principles.

Bock says it’s also important to not confuse strategy with tactics. Strategy simply positions an organization for potential success, while tactics are the tangible actions employees can take to get there. Both are important and essential to success, but they are different concepts.

Remember: Strategy is your plan, tactics are your actions. Use them both to your advantage!

Laying out a plan

Think back to your school days. Remember taking tests and feeling like you could only succeed if you chose the right answer? That’s something that sticks with us, and it’s why strategic thinking can be difficult. Charting the right course in business is much more complex and open-ended—and there’s never one right answer. But laying out a strategic plan, in collaboration with others at your organization, is a good place to start.

Strategic planning involves defining direction and desired outcomes, setting priorities, and making decisions on allocating resources. To start, Bock suggests exploring three basic questions: As an organization, where are we now? Where do we want to be? And how will we get there? Get the answers down on paper and start developing from there.

Remember: The process is part of the solution!

A cyclical model of strategic thinking

Having a consistent decision-making process is the backbone of strategic thinking. When faced with making a strategic decision, Bock suggests starting with a six-step, cyclical model that begins with anticipation. Before making that decision, you want to anticipate what you think is going to happen. From there, you want to challenge any assumptions, interpret what you learn, make the decision, align the organization to implement the decision, and then learn from it. Repeat the process for the next decision.    

This use of a cyclical and consistent strategic thinking process ensures a broader perspective, helps leaders apply past learnings to future decision making, and allows for better identification of patterns and trends.  

Remember: Anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align, learn. Then—repeat as needed!

The importance of reflection

Got your company’s strategic plan set in stone? Great! Now it’s time to start thinking about how it needs to change and evolve.

Strategic plans aren’t intended to be static frameworks, and Bock says companies who engage in a continuous process for strategic planning tend to be more successful overall. Consider having short, strategic planning meetings on a regular basis, as opposed to only having these meetings every year or so.

Additionally, reflection can be a powerful tool. As a leader, some productive questions to ask yourself include: What data would I need to see to change my mind? Do I need to adjust goals? Have I made flawed assumptions?

Remember: Strategic planning is an ongoing process!

Adam Bock is an award-winning academic, serial entrepreneur, and experienced strategy consultant. Bock provides executive education and coaching in strategy, entrepreneurship, and innovation through the Center for Professional & Executive Development at the Fluno Center. Adam has co-authored three books on business models and entrepreneurship, and he has published more than 20 peer reviewed articles and book chapters.

Bock served as a strategy consultant with Michael Porter’s Monitor Group, serving clients such as AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Heineken, and the State of California. He has served on organizational boards and mentors entrepreneurs around the world. Adam holds bachelors’ degrees in aeronautical engineering and quantitative economics from Stanford University, an MBA from the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in innovation and entrepreneurship from Imperial College London.