Strategy session in a box – Part two

A few months ago I gave a talk to an audience of business school deans and senior administrators at the Graduate Management Admission Council or GMAC Asia Pacific conference in Manila in the Philippines. The focus of the talk was "Positioning your Programmes in a Complex World". Some of the session went over how to prepare for and execute a successful strategy session (the topic of my last post).

However, we went deeper into several areas, particularly those that pertain to understanding the essence and elements of a school’s ‘secret sauce’ and how to position the school so this secret sauce is visible and attractive to best-fit candidates.

Uncovering the sweet spot for a school’s positioning goes well beyond choosing a tagline – it takes some looking back, some looking forward and a lot of discussion, as developing strategy is necessarily a thoughtful, deliberate process. It begins with a series of questions about foundations, current positioning and the competitive landscape.

  • • Why was your business school founded? What was its original purpose and charter? (I encourage you to go back and read the charter – it may give insight into why the school is the way it is today).
  • • Who was the founding dean and what was her/his legacy in terms of values and processes, programmes and culture? (Again, archives can be very helpful here).
  • • What has changed since the time of the school’s founding and how has this impacted the strategy and position of the school?
Current positioning
  • • How would you describe your school’s current positioning?
  • • What word(s) do you ‘own’ in the management education space? How do you know you ‘own’ these words? Try giving your school’s definition of these words and ‘proof points’ (for example, stories) that support your claim to ownership.
  • • What do different constituencies say about the school (for instance, faculty, students, staff, alumni, media, etc)?
Competitive landscape
  • • Who are your three biggest competitors and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • • What three schools do you typically ‘win’ against for faculty and students?
  • • Why do you typically win against these schools?
  • • What three schools do you typically ‘lose’ against for faculty and students? Why do you typically lose against these schools?
For the presentation I created a handout for schools to use for capturing their answers, insights and ideas in preparation for a leadership team discussion and I would be happy to share it. If you would like a copy, please email me at the address below and good luck with your session!

Margaret Andrews is a seasoned academic leader with over 20 years of experience in higher education, executive development, business and consulting. She has held leadership positions at MIT, Harvard University and Hult International Business School and has a track record of creating and launching successful programmes and turning around underperforming programmes and units. She teaches a variety of leadership and strategy courses at Harvard Division of Continuing Education and is also president of Mind and Hand Associates, a boutique consulting firm serving a global higher education clientele. You can reach her at