Strategic planning is like river rafting around large rocks
By Matilde Hørmand-Pallesen
“When I’m asked about the best strategy I usually tease people and say, ‘Give me a moment and I’ll fish it out of my pocket,’” says CBS Professor Marie Louise Mors, laughing:
“After all it’s terribly complex because it depends on the industry, company size, what you would like to achieve and so on. There isn’t just one answer. Strategy is nuanced and in motion. And that’s what makes it fun.”
Mors teaches the course “Strategy Development” on the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) programme at CBS. She has 12 years of teaching experience at the MBA level and a PhD from the respected business school INSEAD in France. She has also spent time doing research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been on the faculty at London Business School (LBS), whose MBA programmes are ranked at the top.
An English word will occasionally sneak into her Danish, a testament to the fact that Mors lived abroad for 24 years. She has called Sydney, Oslo, Paris, London, San Francisco, Boston and New York home but has resided in Denmark for the past five years. We’ve met up to discuss CBS’ GEMBA and to hear about how Mors prepares students to reach the next level in their careers.
Weather conditions affect strategy
Mors points to a picture in her office depicting a river in Russia. She usually shows this picture to her students in an effort to illustrate what strategy entails. It was taken while she was fishing with her husband and up ahead in the river a rock crops up.
“You aren’t supposed to steer straight into the rock, but there are two ways around it. Both of them could very well be fine,” she remarks:
“Another scenario is that some years it snows a great deal in Russia, causing the river to rise and cover the rocks, in which case the raft then moves more quickly down the river. Other years there is less water and more rocks because the weather’s been dry. In that case, how do we avoid the rocks? Perhaps it entails pulling your raft ashore and walking. That’s what it’s like to work with strategy because the environment is everchanging,” Mors explains.
But help is at hand in the professor’s toolbox.
Solid theoretical foundation based on the latest research
From among the most important benefits of the GEMBA course on strategy, Mors stresses three. The first one is that instruction is research based. Imagine a dynamic encyclopaedia, constantly updated with the latest knowledge. As an active researcher Mors stays abreast of the newest research. She has just returned from a conference in Oslo and is currently organising one in Paris, requiring her to stay completely up to date with the latest research.
This is not to say, however, that her classes are a teacher-centred monologue.
“My classes are not like traditional lectures. I share the latest research with my students and test things from my research, but I also expect my students to challenge me. I see myself as a facilitator. The teaching is interactive,” she says. “The students gain a strong theoretical foundation in strategic development,” she adds.
Sharing information with MIT, INSEAD and LBS
Another positive aspect is that students become acquainted with carefully selected cases that represent examples taken from the real world. The practical application of theory is given high priority, with researchers from across the globe working together to compile the most up-to-date syllabus:
“I use my international network and exchange experiences with other instructors. I talk to other people who teach strategy at Wharton, Harvard, INSEAD and LBS. This helps ensure that the lectures are relevant, and I have a clear conscience when I say that the cases we work with are on par with the best schools worldwide.”
The advantage of working with cases is that the students learn to analyse a situation and, in light of this, learn to make the best decision to provide the greatest chance of gaining a competitive edge, explains Mors. They are simultaneously given the opportunity to work in depth on other companies that can inspire new ideas.
“It forces the students to think beyond their own everyday lives,” states Mors, continuing:
“Even though they work with a whole other industry or issue and are asked to work on completely different things, they will most often learn something valuable to bring with them.”
You gain an international network
The third advantage is that the Global Executive MBA is known for its combination of carefully selected business executives – usually from several different countries. The last class was composed of students from, e.g. Brazil, US, France, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
“One aspect of the course is to learn from the experiences of other students. The students represent diversity and nuanced experience, which is why I urge everyone to actively take part. And I always experience a high level of commitment in the classes,” says Mors.
CEOs are no longer alone in making decisions
Why is the course on strategy relevant for students’ everyday lives? Today, leaders are compelled to involve the organisation more heavily when making decisions. This requires familiarising yourself with your toolbox, explains Mors.
“If we go back 20-30 years, CEOs would sit in their offices, call the shots alone and implement strategy. They had the authority, and no one was looking over their shoulder. But that’s not what it’s like today,” she asserts:
“Nowadays information is more readily available to more people. You can take an online course in strategy, for example. Simultaneously, activist investors interfere in the CEOs’ decisions. There are far more stakeholders to take into consideration and the world moves at a faster pace, putting greater pressure on the CEO.”
And the challenges are even more relevant for leaders of global companies with complex issues. That’s why Mors encourages them to earn a GEMBA to obtain the best and newest tools.