April 2018 | 

For Strategy That Works, Make It a Team Sport

It's A Team Sport

While the failure rate for strategic initiatives is likely lower than the often-cited 80 percent, it is widely acknowledged that most companies don’t fully succeed in executing their plans. Common reasons for that lack of success are not including the right people in the planning process, ignoring the realities of industry and marketplace, and setting unrealistic goals.

One company, Aero Metals Alliance, is uniquely working to bypass those hurdles. Instead of calling in a consultant or sending top leadership to a strategy retreat, five of their general managers recently attended Wharton’s Creating and Implementing Strategy for Competitive Advantage program.

Co-academic director Harbir Singh says the program is a great fit for team enrollment. “Strategy is not developed or executed by unitary actors. Individuals have their own perspectives that are often inconsistent with one another, but eventually you have to get into alignment. Attending a program like this is an effective way to do that.”

Marc McDuff, one of the general managers, agreed. “Because we are spread out geographically, our goal was to get on a unified page. We run our groups individually, but because we work for two alliance companies that are going to market together, it’s important that we are driving toward the same goals strategically.”

Singh says developing a common language around strategy and sharing a common experience is one of the most important benefits of group attendance. “The participants come away with a shared vocabulary and knowledge that makes it easier to discuss strategy concepts and develop executable strategies. That benefit continues long after the program is over.”

“If I was here by myself, I would have had ideas that I could take back to the company,” says Lori McLay. “But we were able to turn to each other and talk about how things could be applied during the program. It’s beneficial to attend by yourself, but we got much more out of it by being here together.”

The group also benefited from the experience in the room. “This program is explicitly discussion oriented,” says Singh. “It is fascinating to hear multiple viewpoints from different companies, industries, and geographies. There are many opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, both in the class as a whole and when participants break out into smaller groups. They can reconcile their own views while bringing in the perspectives of others.”

Singh notes that working together without the distractions of day-to-day office obligations is another important benefit, one shared by individual team members and for the team as a whole. That was evident in the most recent session of Creating and Implementing Strategy for Competitive Advantage, in which high-achieving, globally diverse participants were particularly engaged (and 12 had previously attended a Wharton program). Spending a week in Philadelphia, attending sessions that provide a set of different approaches and insights, accelerates the strategic planning process. And that acceleration only increases when participants work for smaller companies. Singh says they have “a unique opportunity to create new strategic initiatives during the program and start executing on them when they get back to work.”

Gage Piancone agrees. “By attending together, we were able to add value to our organization on the spot. Working together on something like the strategy audit will help us take immediate action when we get back to work.”