Strategic Management

A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF ONE OF THE KEY DEBATES IN STRATEGY

Being able to take a critical view of the tools and theories used in Strategic Management is an important skill, both from an academic viewpoint, but also as a strategy practitioner. Many of the large strategic consultancies, such as Bain, McKinsey, BCG, AT Kearney and Booz and Company, see themselves as “thought leaders” in the sector and produce white papers and discussion documents with new ideas and modified models which they develop and test with their clients. So, being able to explain core concepts in strategy and then suggest how they can be applied effectively or changed to fit new contexts and situations is a valuable skill.

This assignment involves setting up a professional profile on LinkedIn, making postings to an on-line forum on this social networking website, commenting/responding to posts from other participants and then writing an essay on one of the current key debates in strategy.  You will see that each chapter of the textbook contains a key debate section with brief coverage of a disputed topic in the field. Many of the lectures will also take a critical approach to the topic covered, presenting arguments for and against a particular approach or theory. These resources, along with discussions in your workshop group and on the LinkedIn forum, should provide you with plenty of basic material to draw on when you write your own essay. More in-depth arguments can be found in some of the readings (both compulsory and optional) that we set each week, or through your own research into your chosen debate.

You will have four topics to choose from. You can post as many times as you like to any or all of the four discussion forums, but you must make a substantive contribution to at least one of the forums and make detailed comments in response to at least one other participant’s postings on the same topic. 20% of the marks for your essay will be based on your use of this contribution and also for making reference to other relevant content from the forum in your essay (this can either be your own postings or those of another participant).

The topics/questions for debate are:

1.  The Dean of Victoria University Business School, M.S.S. el Namaki, wrote in 2012, “The five forces model needs a radical adjustment if it is to continue to be of use today”. What are some of the problems with Porter’s industry analysis framework and what radical adjustments could make it fit for purpose in the current environment?

 2. One of the main criticisms of the Resource Based View of the firm is that it is difficult for managers to put into action. What other flaws have been identified with this theory and how have they been addressed by its supporters?

 3.  “At best generic strategies provide some food for thought, at their worst they are simplistic, and can act as a substitute for thinking.” (Bowman, 2008). Is this a fair assessment of the various generic strategy prescriptions put forward by Mintzberg, Treacy &Wiersema, Porter, Kim & Mauborgne, and Cliff Bowman himself?

 4. Should an organisation’s strategy have stakeholder or shareholder value creation at its heart? 

 Why are we asking you to do this?

The assignment is designed to help you develop further a range of relevant business and academic skills. For example, communicating with a team in an online setting is now a key skill in most workplaces – especially those with globalised workforces located in different parts of the world. While you have probably gained a great deal of experience debating topics face-to-face with other students, working virtually requires a different approach because some of the richness of communication is not there – so you will need to think about how to respond appropriately and show sensitivity to others’ comments and ideas.

Because the debate is asynchronous, it also means you have thinking time and can make more considered responses to others’ work

The assignment also gives you the opportunity to see what your fellow students are thinking about and learning from the different debates. This is something you can use to inform your own ideas on the subject. In organisations where strategy is developed collectively, including the views and ideas of others can be an important part of the strategy-making process. For example, Exeter’s Education Strategy is currently being revised and this has involved; consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, such as the Guild and groups of employers, scenario planning workshops, a website set up for staff comments and ideas on the different topics covered in the strategy, and also an editorial committee working virtually on the final document, which will be submitted to the senior management team in Autumn 2013.

To take part in the debates fully (and gain up to 20% for using the postings therein) you will need to set up a LinkedIn profile and join the Crafting and Executing Strategy group. Many of you may already have a LinkedIn profile, even if you have, this assignment gives you the opportunity to work on that profile and use it to enhance your career prospects and professional network building. If you haven’t yet set up a profile on LinkedIn, you will now have the chance to carry out some self-promotion on the “world’s largest professional network” and to identify and make contact with other students, alumni and professionals in your chosen career field.

In addition to the Crafting and Executing Strategy group, you should also become a member of at least two other groups you think will be helpful in furthering your career. By joining these specific groups on LinkedIn you are also becoming part of a community of practice in a particular field of business (you might choose to join marketing, human resources or accounting groups, as well as the Crafting and Executing Strategy Group, for example) and this can be an important step in your career since many special interest groups provide useful news and also job opportunities for their members, as well as offering the opportunity to engage in debates with/ask advice from more experienced professionals in the field.

So you can plan the assignment we have broken it down into a 6 step process:

Step 1:

Set up a LinkedIn profile – you should transfer the primary content of your CV to your LinkedIn profile. The basics should include a professional quality photo of your head and shoulders, plus brief details of your employment and education history. There are a large number of sites and articles offering advice about setting up a LinkedIn profile.

Step 2: 

 Join at least three LinkedIn Groups – one group must be Crafting and Executing Strategy European Edition – since this is where the discussions you need to post to will be located. Exeter Business School Alumni is another obvious choice – but you should also consider choosing a group that is relevant to the career you intend to follow when you leave Exeter – there are plenty of Marketing, Human Resources, Accounting, Finance and Operations groups – and also many devoted to strategy and strategic management – some of the most popular strategy groups are listed below as examples:

Strategy Professionals Network

Strategy and Corporate Strategic Planning Xchange

Business Strategy and Competitive Strategy Forum

Corporate Planning, Strategy & Strategic Market Segmentation

Strategy Consulting Network

Step 3:

Connect with a minimum of 20 others on LinkedIn – these can be alumni, current students, or industry contacts you already have. It should not be any of the module team – as the University has a policy which says staff should not connect with students on social media while they are currently teaching them.

Step 4:

Make at least one substantive posting to one of the discussion forums in the Crafting and Executing Strategy group on LinkedIn. The Group has discussions other than the ones which are being used for your assignment. So the discussions you need to contribute to are easy to pick out, they will be in the list of Manager’s Choices and labelled “DEBATE”.

What do we mean by “substantive”?

Clearly, we are not expecting you to write the essay in the forum, so your posting does not need to be very long, but it needs to be relevant and develop a point that will take the debate forward or give an example that will support a point of view in the debate. This means 100-200 words should be sufficient.

The discussion forums will be open on LinkedIn from week 3 (w/c 7th October 2013). As all four of the debates will be posted on that date, you don’t have to wait until the topic you are interested in is covered in the lectures or workshops. However, we have designed the curriculum so that there will be lecture content on all four topics by 11th November 2013 – which is over three and a half weeks before your essay is due (you are free to use content from the lectures after this date if you think it is relevant to the debate you have chosen).

Step 5:

Respond to at least one posting by another participant in the forum for your chosen discussion. Again, this should be substantive – so 100-200 words of content relevant to the debate and the other person’s posting. You can support the point of view they have taken or disagree with them. However, if you are going to take a critical approach remember that they will only have your written words to go by – so please be respectful and professional in your exchanges.

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