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The Cyclical Nature of Strategy

October 21, 2019


Corporate strategy can be both a simple and a challenging undertaking. Simple, because even in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world of ours, there are solid theoretical models that have been in place for nearly half a century, which help strategic decision-makers gain a better grasp of the business realities they are up against. And challenging, because any such strategy will ultimately be used by human beings (employees, customers, stakeholders) who are notoriously resistant to a one-size-fits-all approach.

It all starts with a good diagnosis

Strategy is what a business turns to address a difficult situation or to prepare for when there are clouds looming on the horizon. This may occur, for example, when a new competitor comes onto the scene or when an alternative product turns the market on its ear (Uber or Airbnb, anyone?). Or it may stem from an economic slowdown or labour shortage. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So how do you go about qualifying your current situation?

A strategic diagnosis requires you to ask questions about the external environment, the dynamic within your line of business, the number and relative importance of the stakeholders in and around your organization, as well as the resources and competencies you have – and don’t have. Remember: the better a handle you have on your corporate culture, the better positioned you will be when it comes time to taking action.


Making a choice

Once the challenges confronting your organization have been assessed, you will have a number of options available to you to select from. The first of these considerations will undoubtedly touch on your organization’s core activities, in other words the goods or services you offer and the markets you cater to. Should you consider withdrawing a given item from your current product line? Do you need to step up your presence in your home market? Is it the right time to break into the international arena? Is a significant investment in your organization’s capacity to innovate called for at this particular juncture? Might you consider formally or informally joining forces with another organization to overcome obstacles you foresee on the horizon? All of these avenues are possible and should be given ample consideration before venturing forward.

The human element

So now your diagnosis is in and your choices are made. All that’s left is to get things rolling. Mind you, that’s easier said than done! The first two steps are taken in the relatively controlled environment of top-level decision-makers. But when comes time to implement them, you will invariably have to deal with the realities of the actual people in the organization and everything they have to face. The strategic solutions that have been identified earlier in the process will undoubtedly prompt you to re-examine established practices or perhaps even develop whole new ones. That’s when it becomes clear that implementing strategies requires finesse, conviction and, as we referred to earlier, extensive insight into an organization’s core values.

So as you can see, executing corporate strategy means asking lots of questions and drawing on existing theoretical models and the experience of top business strategists in order to find answers to these and other questions. And although the challenge may seem daunting, Professor Louis Hébert, academic director of the McGill-HEC Montréal EMBA program, director of the HEC Montréal MBA program, and corporate strategy specialist, can guide you in your thinking during a two-day seminar on Strategic Management: From Analysis to Action. There’s simply nothing better to help you gain clarity in the topsy-turvy world of business.


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Executive Education > News > 2019 > The Cyclical Nature of Strategy