• Strategy

Big Picture Before Strategy

Prof Dale Griffin says without the big picture, strategy is a non-starter


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Look before you leap is a useful adage for all business leaders. Too often corporate strategies hit the execution stage way before leaders have fully defined why they want to execute or planned how they want to execute. People need to take the time to think about the big picture and plan for it, says Dale Griffin, a professor at UBC Sauder Executive Education.

Grifin is an international thought leader whose studies look at how decision makers can overcome the challenges of human fallibility. Closely associated with the Nobel prize-winning founders of Behavioural Decision Theory, his research and consulting, with leading organizations, focuses on consumer decision-making and marketing research. In this short Q&A, he explains how his research impacts on the executives he teaches:

Describe your approach to teaching in Executive Education

My aim is to challenge participants to think bigger. The course is an opportunity for hard thinking that pushes managers to consider their roles and their approaches in their organizations, and how that connects to the larger questions of where an organization is going and why.

What are the most important things people need to consider when making strategic decisions?

The number one thing to remember is that strategic decisions are choices that tie into long-term strategies or goals, as opposed to everyday tactical decisions. In fact, the most important thing about strategic decision-making is not to be short-term focused or lost in the moment. You have to continually tie individual decisions to the big questions of where are we going, why are we doing this and how do our collective decisions come together to create a shared strategy.

What is the most common decision-making trap that leads to bad outcomes for businesses?

Often too much time is spent on execution and not enough on the planning of why you want to execute and how you want to execute. There is tremendous need for advanced planning. Often people don’t take the time to think about the big picture and plan for it, but it’s crucial. It allows you to make smarter choices under pressure, especially if you have rules or principles to fall back on.

How do you help executives fine tune their decision-making skills?

For many people, it adds to their confidence, either their confidence that they’re already doing things well or that they have tools available to improve things in the future.

As people become more senior they can’t rely on one set of skills; they have to broaden their skills and have a broader perspective. After the course, many develop their ability to perceive and think at a higher strategic level about problems and decisions. Thinking at this strategic level, you’re able to reach out to people in different areas of the organization and pull perspectives together.

Canada’s UBC Sauder Executive Education is located in the heart of Vancouver’s business district, known for its strong Pacific Rim connections, vibrant multiculturalism and spectacular natural environment surrounded by ocean and mountains.

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