Fast Company

Strategy Unmasked

Create a breakthrough strategy like PG and GE -- or suffer, suffer, suffer.

Course: Creating Breakthrough Strategy
When: Twice a year. Next: June 12-17; October 30-November 4
Instructors: Patricia Clifford, Rita Gunther McGrath, and William G. Pietersen
Class Size: Varies, from 20 to 40
Where: Columbia Business School, New York
Cost: $7,750
Mission: Learn the tools to revive sluggish strategies.

Is your company's strategy really your business plan masquerading as your strategy?

How can you tell? Well, if your strategy is in a three-ring binder full of charts and budgets, that's one clue. Confusing the two can be toxic, "because planning kills strategy," says William G. Pietersen, who formerly ran Tropicana. The object of the course is to set students and their companies off on a coherent path before the planning process begins. Students are led through four crucial steps for developing breakthrough strategy: learn, focus, align, and execute. They spend the first two days identifying priorities and unmet needs that can be capitalized on. Participants use those insights to make informed choices that lead to a "winning proposition," the edge that results in profits and value for customers. By course's end, students leave with a notebook that details the process for articulating stellar strategies with five key priorities and an action plan to carry them out. "The good companies like Procter & Gamble and GE understand that they have to do strategy first and then plan later," says Pietersen.

Student evaluation: Sandra Davis, senior marketing manager for IBM Global Services in White Plains, New York, took the course last summer as a way to refresh her thinking on strategy in a marketplace flooded with nimble competitors like Wipro. How do you maintain leadership? By applying some tools offered on customer segmentation, she explored the angle of small- and medium-sized businesses as one unmet area and tailored a strategy to them. "These are tough times," says Davis. "We have to know how to go about those specific segments to help grow the business."

Want to go? www.gsb.columbia.edu/execed

Can't go? Pick up Pietersen's Reinventing Strategy (John Wiley & Sons, 2002).

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