Tag: strategic initiatives

Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festal cheer.

—Sir Walter Scott

Happy New Year from Olin Business School! This is the perfect time for us to extend our best wishes to you for a happy and healthy 2018.

Please watch this brief video for a sneak peek into some of the many exciting things Olin has planned for the coming year.





Poets & Quants Editor John Byrne recently visited Washington University to learn more about Olin’s program offerings, meet with students, and talk one-on-one with Dean Mark Taylor about the school’s upcoming “strategic refresh.”

According to Byrne’s just-published interview with Dean Taylor, the pair’s discussion covered a lot of ground: the potential for a one-year MBA, the future of online learning at Olin, taking leadership inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry V, and Dean Taylor’s love of all things St. Louis (he tells Byrne that St. Louis “feels to me like one of the world’s great cities”).

Check out some of the highlights from the interview below, and stay up-to-date on Olin’s latest happenings by following Olin and Dean Taylor on Twitter.

Considering a one-year, accelerated full-time MBA program

“I think there is an opportunity for thinking about flexibility in the MBA program. The MBA has to shift in terms of what it offers. If you look at the trend of returns to MBAs, they have been declining while the costs have been increasing. People are thinking hard about the value proposition of a traditional MBA.

“One way of thinking about MBA candidates and students is as career accelerators and career changers. Some students know exactly what career they want to be in, and they are already in it. They really want to accelerate their career, get the human capital that an MBA imparts, perhaps increase their network of contacts, and do the MBA as fast as possible. Career changers would rather take a couple of years to perhaps do one or more internships and really ponder which way they want to take their career. We have to cater to both of those audiences here.”

Olin’s close-knit community 

“Olin Business School offers world-class instruction, faculty that is second to none in the world and who are very approachable. There is an intimacy in the classroom between faculty and students that would be hard to find elsewhere in top schools. Everyone who comes to Olin has a name and a story. You are well known by the faculty and supported by an excellent staff. That is one aspect of Olin that marks us out from our competitor schools.”

Olin’s first century in business

“We were one of the first business schools to be launched in the U.S. 100 years ago. We have grown from a small class of 20 or so to one of the great business schools in the world, with extensions in Mumbai and Shanghai as well as in Washington, D.C., through the Brookings Institution. We are a full-service school with a top-ranked undergraduate program, a leading MBA program, and a range of master’s programs, executive education, and a thriving doctoral program as well.”

Interdisciplinary influences on business education

“Literature really tells us a lot about human nature and the human condition. Thinking about those issues is a very important part of humanity and being an effective business leader. The performing arts are very important, particularly in a business school education. Being able to project, persuade, and get one’s views across is in one sense a part of drama.”

What Olin looks for in students 

“We are looking for individuals who are excellent and who want to pursue excellence. We are looking for people who have a strong values system and want to have a global outlook. Our vision is global and our thinking is entrepreneurial. The environment here is a very supportive one. I wouldn’t want to be up against any of our graduates in the marketplace, but I certainly would want to be one of their colleagues.”

Read the full interview on Poets & Quants.

Prof. Jackson Nickerson answers management questions in a column published by Government Executive magazine. Here’s his latest response to a recent query about strategy.

Our management team recently discussed the issue of “why we do what we do,” and it turned out most of us don’t know the answer to that question.  We also realized that our agency’s strategic plan does not help us make decisions about what we should do.  What approach can you recommend to our agency (of about 400) so that our strategic plan is meaningful to all and useful for decision-making? 


When I consult for organizations, I sometimes give managers a pop quiz.  I ask them to write down their organization’s strategy.  All too often, fewer than 10 percent  of the organization’s managers will come even close to accurately describing their strategy.  Instead of the strategy they will recite the organization’s goals.  Sometimes they state the mission while other times they describe the vision, occasionally mixing up the two.  With such a mix of understandings it is no wonder that many organizations, like yours, face confusion about “why they do what they do.” I’ve found the confusion stems from three places:

Lengthy Strategic Planning Documents: Strategic plans, especially those found in government agencies, are responsible for at least some of this confusion.  The agency plans I have read often run into the hundreds of pages making them difficult to fully understand and internalize—the human brain can acquire, accumulate, and apply only so much information from these encyclopedic tomes.

(HAVE A QUESTION? Send your most pressing management questions to AskEIG@govexec.com)

Too Many Strategies: Another source of confusion, especially for managers, arises when an organization (say the size of 400) has dozens of strategic initiatives running simultaneously.  With so many initiatives it is difficult for anyone to understand all the strategic imperatives. And, as most people are pressed just to complete their day-to-day tasks, trying to juggle lots of initiatives on top of their “regular” job slows progress on any single initiative to a crawl, which gives rise to frustration, robs motivation, and shrivels productivity.

Strategy by Fiat: A third source of confusion comes from how most strategies are communicated.  Often the strategy is conveyed from the top down with the message being repeated by the leader multiple times.  Telling people what the strategy is—even when doing so frequently—rarely leads to the type of understanding needed by managers for the strategy to be useful for guiding their day-to-day decision-making.

Here are three ideas that might help you turn your situation around so that your strategic plan is meaningful and useful for decision-making.

  1. Simplify: First, simplify your strategy to no more than five strategic initiatives at a time.  I like to think of a strategy as a solution approach—not the implementation details—for addressing important issues, seizing opportunities, or responding to vital problems.  So your initiatives should reflect approaches to tackle issues instead of being defined by specific tactical details. Leave tactics up to the managers—that allows them to implement their own specific solutions.
  2. Verify: Second, “verify” understanding of the current strategic initiatives among your management team. While a pop quiz is one tool, verification can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Try asking someone different in every management meeting to review the organization’s (five) strategic initiatives and explain what decisions they personally and recently have made to advance progress on the strategic initiatives.  Doing so will focus attention not only on the initiatives but will cause your team to think much more about how their daily decisions relate to the initiatives.
  3. Incentivize Focus: Third, include progress on strategic initiatives in your agency’s performance review process.  In addition to evaluating specific tasks associated with job descriptions, I like to ask every employee open-ended questions in their performance review about how they have contributed to advancing the current strategic initiatives and what they could have done better to advance them.  Knowing that such questions will be in their review focuses attention on the strategy over the long term.

These ideas may not resolve all of your issues but I hope they give you a few ideas on how to head your agency down a path toward achieving greater meaning from your strategic plan and gaining more useful and coherent decision-making.

Duce a mente (May you lead by thinking),

Jackson Nickerson

In partnership with Brookings Executive Education, Excellence in Government is now taking, and answering, your most difficult management questions. Send your questions to AskEIG@govexec.com.