Why strategy is easier planned than implemented


Innovation Profile:Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD: A new UCD course aims to help business leaders bridge the gap between strategy making and executiion

The need for business managers to keep pace with a rapidly-changing competitive landscape is the driving force behind the new Diploma in Strategy, Innovation and Change at the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD.

Designed by Prof Pat Gibbons, academic director of UCD Executive Education, it offers people the latest knowledge, applied research and best practices, and is aimed at helping business leaders bridge the gap between strategy making and successful strategy execution.

Commencing in February, the new programme was developed following research carried out by UCD among CEOs and senior talent directors. “We were looking to identify gaps in the market to inform us in terms of what was need in terms of new programmes,” Prof Gibbons explains.

“We found that the area of strategic thinking, strategy development, designing more innovative organisations and the execution of strategy were key challenges facing industry located here. This was a consistent finding across sectors. So we design-ed this programme to address that need.”

The emphasis is very much on the practical with the programme being delivered on Fridays and Saturdays over six weekends to enable working executives balance the course and the pressures of their jobs.

The programme is built around six modules, with the first looking at the role of the strategic leader and how individuals can introduce and develop strategic initiatives in their organisations. The second module focuses on the trends that will influence and transform the business landscape over the coming decade.

The third module addresses and evaluates how value is created in the marketplace and how a firm’s competitive position can be defended. The final three modules then looks at how the senior management team works and should work; what its agenda should be and how to improve its effectiveness.

“A key part of strategy is the commitment of resources and funds to projects and this is addressed in the fourth module, as is the concept of real options,” says Gibbons. “The final module addresses key implementation issues, where strategy changes require organisational changes.”

Vitally important

A great plan on paper can and frequently does fail in execution. The new programme will look at both sides of the equation, examining challenges such as information sharing, knowledge transfer and the management of culture, where many promising strategies fall short.

The course is designed to help participants devise, monitor and lead strategies, and learn the ways and means to make their strategies work, and the major focus is consequently on the strategy element.

“We will look at how firms compete, and how managers can position their companies for success in the short to medium term. This will include dealing with questions such as how to design an organisation to be flexible, innovative and competitive for the long term. This is vitally important because what makes a company successful today may not work tomorrow. Companies need to be innovative and dynamic in order to respond to change.”

Gibbons is quick to point out that the course is not about teaching innovation, rather it is about teaching people how to be innovative and how to create innovative organisations by ensuring that the right processes and culture are in place.

“We are seeing new models and ways of doing business emerge and, as a result of that, there is a need to design organisations to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. One of the problems is that the word innovation tends to get overburdened by definitions. Of course, we need to have research and inventions but innovation is also about commercialising ideas and bringing them to market – it’s not all about what’s happening in the lab.

“It’s also about designing organisations to be inventive and to discover things and to design business models. This is a leadership and managerial challenge. Frequently, there is a rallying cry around the need for more innovation in organisations, yet the social architecture to deliver innovation is left untouched – this programme addresses that challenge.”

It is about being open to new ways of doing things. “I think it’s fair comment to say that many organisations which fail are those which have failed to change,” he says. “Inertia tends to rule. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sticking to the same old way of doing things and clinging to the status quo.”

Innovation isn’t alone in labouring under the burden of a narrow definition. Strategy too suffers from misunderstandings. “Thinking strategically is often confused with some form of forecasting – literally the five-year plan,” Gibbons says.

“Many managers, particularly when confronted with the economic crisis and rapid technological change think that strategic thinking is futile. I would challenge that mindset because strategic thinking is about looking at the decisions you are making now and thinking about their long- term consequences.

“It’s about how you commit resources now, how you configure your assets now, how you make decisions in the here and now that will position yourself and your organisation for a successful future – the vital task for leadership.”


Gibbons points to several examples of companies and organisations which have benefited from successful strategic change over the years. “Apple’s transformation from a PC company to an entire mobile eco-system is one, and a real-time strategic change that is happening close to home is CC’s portfolio expansion, particularly in the US. We also see a radical restructuring taking place in the dairy industry with Glanbia’s restructuring of its milk-processing assets.

“In the public sector, the strategy statements produced by the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance reveal a significant shift in their approach to administration and focus. Looking back we see how IBM moved from being a major manufacturing concern to being fundamentally a services organisation. These are all examples of organisations which have come to understand that what has brought them success at one stage will not continue to bring success in the future.”

Enrolment is now open for the Diploma in Strategy, Innovation and Change. See smurfitschool.ie/executiveeducation

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