For as long as there have been market economies, there has been competition between businesses. The agile companies, the intelligent ones, the more perceptive ones succeed; the less nimble do not. It’s what makes the system work. You might say it comes with the territory.
“You gotta know the territory,” a salesmen chants in the hit film “The Music Man,” which turns 60 in 2022. But “knowing the territory” is a lot tougher today than it was in, say, 1962, when the fictional “Professor” Harold Hill was traipsing around mid-America trying to coax small-town Iowans into opening their wallets. And it’s tougher than in 1972, or 2002, or will be in 2022.
“In past times, things were more stable; there was less pressure to get things right because the consequences of a mistake in strategy were less severe,” said John Corso, president of Strategent Corporation and program director for Georgetown University’s Certificate in Strategic Management. “But over time, the stakes have become much higher. Organizations are challenged to make the right move strategically because of accelerated change and other factors in the environment that are much less forgiving than they used to be.”
The ‘Great Acceleration’
Consider just one facet of this new environment: the daily news cycle. Before the widespread use of the Internet, newspapers came out twice a day, generally in the morning and the afternoon. Then, in the evenings, the “Big Three” television networks told viewers the established truth, or, as Walter Cronkite called it, “the way it is.”
Today, there is no “daily news cycle,” no single “way it is.” Instead, there are a plethora of news sources, of varying degrees of legitimacy, spewing out facts and falsehoods, analysis, commentary, and rants every minute of the day, nonstop. A company seeking to protect its brand or reputation has a much more challenging task lest one morsel of information goes viral and puts it in an unflattering light.
In this environment, the strategic manager’s job is more important than ever, but in no organization can this person do this work alone.
“While not every job is geared toward strategic thinking, increasingly your role in an organization demands what I call ‘strategic awareness,’” Corso said. “The trend is now toward more collaborative and inclusive approaches to management, where all ideas are accepted and even solicited to ensure that a diverse range of perspectives are considered.”
The ‘Environmental Scan’
In Georgetown’s intensive program, which runs over five consecutive days, students study leading strategic practice models, learn how to establish strategic goals and priorities, develop implementation strategies and change initiatives, evaluate results, and learn how to communicate this information to key stakeholders. And it all starts with an “environmental scan,” a kind of modern-day equivalent of “knowing the territory,” only this time “the territory” includes both the company’s external and internal environment and how they combine to foster or impede success.
The class focuses on three sequential ideas. First is the process of winnowing an organization’s activities and aims down to “a critical few” of strategic significance. Second is understanding how these elements fit together in a cause-and-effect way. Third is determining how to change those elements to get the desired result, a decision reached by asking a series of questions, including: What do we need the system to look like in the future? What are the risks? And how are our goals going to help get us the results we need?
The class attracts executives and management consultants who are interested in building their skills in strategic management, Corso said, as well as investors, entrepreneurs, “and anyone who wants to understand how organizations perform and how they succeed.”