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Understanding business strategy

Drive competitive advantage with a clear strategy

Topic: Business
Dr. Sharon Mertz

Strategy is not a new concept, but it has become an increasingly essential aspect of business success. This means strategy must be a critical focus for managers, leaders, and anyone who has a vested interest in the enterprise and how it’s positioned in the market. Companies are continually challenged by external competitive and industry forces, internal resource and capability constraints, and leadership and implementation issues, which can compromise the competitive advantage of the enterprise. Your ability to think strategically and competitively will make a significant impact on your career and your team.

In this engaging hands-on training, Sharon Mertz details the challenges companies encounter when developing and executing strategy, demonstrates why business strategy matters, and illustrates how the focus, communication, and implementation of a clear strategic direction can lead to competitive advantage for your company.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live online course, you’ll understand:

  • The role and importance of vision and mission in framing an enterprise’s strategy, direction, and execution
  • Basic tenets of strategy and what these imply for the enterprise
  • The role of leadership in driving and executing strategic choices
  • Elements of the enterprise’s internal environment that contribute to competitive advantage
  • The nature of industry and external macro forces and their impact on company rivalry and competitive actions

And you’ll be able to:

  • Identify a set of tools and frameworks that assist practitioners and management in strategy development and analysis
  • Articulate the arenas of strategy development and identify those elements that are applicable to your company
  • Understand how to apply select models such as SWOT, Five Forces, and PESTEL to your specific company, industry, and macro environment
  • Identify the primary generic business strategies

This training course is for you because...

  • You're a director who needs to contribute to strategy development within your functional area based on guidance from the firm’s overall business strategy.
  • You're a director with broader managerial responsibilities, and you need to work cross-functionally to successfully execute the firm’s business strategy.
  • You're a manager with direct reports, and you need to articulate the firm’s strategy to your team and provide guidance on their role in making the strategy successful.
  • You're an individual contributor who needs to determine how your role both contributes to effective strategy execution and impacts other related functions within the organization.
  • You're a business generalist who wants a more cohesive view of strategy development and execution within the organization.


  • Recommended: professional experience in the commercial environment, public sector, or academic institutions
  • Recommended: previous business experience in two or more functional areas, or coursework in two or more business disciplines (marketing, finance, organizational behavior, information technology, etc.)

NOTE: Participants should read, and be prepared to discuss, the articles listed under learning activities

Assignments prior to the live online training - learning activities:

Recommended for those having no prior experience with a SWOT analysis: - Read Chapter 2, “SWOT Analysis II: Looking Inside for Strengths and Weaknesses”, from Strategy: Create and Implement the Best Strategy for Your Business, Harvard Business School Press - Read Chapter 1, “SWOT Analysis I: Looking Outside for Threats and Opportunities,” excerpted from Strategy: Create and Implement the Best Strategy for Your Business, Harvard Business School Press

About your instructor

  • Sharon Mertz is a consultant, research analyst, and graduate business instructor focused on evaluating and setting strategy for businesses in both domestic and international environments in high-tech markets and other industry sectors. Throughout her career she has been providing analysis and guidance to executives, technology development organizations, and graduate business professionals. She held an international assignment at IBM based in Paris, France, as practice leader for IBM's strategic consulting organization responsible for projects and staff in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Dr. Mertz also held management roles at KPMG, Hewlett Packard, Bull Worldwide Information Systems, and Digital Equipment, serving CIOs and information technology leaders. She is an accomplished keynote speaker and has addressed audiences at both commercial and academic conferences internationally. Dr. Mertz is an instructor at the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, where she instructs industry executives and professionals in topics such as strategic management, leadership, and technology within multinational corporate environments. As a consultant and principal at Red Salt Advisory, she also provides advisory services for boards of directors, strategic planning organizations, and corporate research functions.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Part 1: Framework for strategy development and execution

  • The objective of the initial segment is to provide participants with a common understanding and vernacular of the elements which inform strategy development and execution. Part 1 will consist of a definition and overview of the components and process of strategy formulation, setting the tone for more detailed discussion on specific topics in Parts 2 and 3.

Introduction Section 1: What is strategy – and why should it matter to you? Vision, Mission, and the Strategic Management Process (30 minutes)

  • Lecture: Focusing on the essential components of strategy and how they impact strategic decisions and the planning and execution actions of your company
  • Focusing on the essential components of strategy and how they impact strategic decisions and the planning and execution actions of your company.
  • Exercise: Identify strategic planning challenges and assess how your company’s strategic vision and mission frame strategy
  • Q&A

Segment 2: Leadership, Implementation Challenges, and Drivers of Competitive Advantage (20 minutes)

  • Lecture: Illustrates how leadership, growth strategies, generic business strategy alternatives, and implementation choices impact the competitive advantage of the enterprise.
  • Exercise: Assess what business strategy your company follows
  • Q&A

Break (10 minutes)

Segment 3: Lecture: Resources and capabilities provide internal competitive leverage (25 minutes)

  • Lecture: We define how company resources and capabilities can be used to accelerate a company’s competitive position. Examples of particular focus areas that can contribute to the company’s advantage are illustrated.
  • Exercise: Compare focus areas with your work at your company
  • Q&A

Segment 4: Models assist in evaluating internal advantages (25 minutes)

  • Lecture: An overview of recognized models that assist strategists, managers, and practitioners to analyze internal firm assets which are germane to exploiting firm resources and capabilities.
  • Exercise: Which models could apply to your current situation?
  • Q&A

Break (10 minutes)

Part 3: External environment forces and firm response

  • Segment 5: External environment models – Macro Perspective
  • Lecture: Covering the macro environment in which the company competes, including models to assist in positioning a firm’s decision criteria for entering new markets and competing successfully in its current environment.
  • Exercise: Identify your company’s macro perspective
  • Exercise: How does the PESTEL model apply to your company?
  • Q&A

Segment 6: Industry analysis – Porter’s Five Forces Model (20 minutes) Lecture: Addresses industry analysis and how firms can use this model to evaluate industry entry, craft their strategies to benefit from advantageous industry positions, and determine how to best analyze rivals’ positions pertaining to competitive forces. Exercise: Assess the Five Forces in your industry Q&A

Segment 7: Market analysis – Evaluating Market Dynamics

  • Lecture: Focuses on market and competitive analysis: market segmentation, competitive positioning, and market forces which impact firm dynamics.
  • Exercise: Describe your company’s primary markets and market forces
  • Q&A and Wrap-up
  • Describe how you’ll evaluate the outcomes of the course:
  • How will you know if participants grasp the big ideas, know and can do the expected outcomes, and no longer have the common misunderstandings?