Corporate superpowers (strategic decision-making skills)

This blog post is a part of a larger Strategic decision-making collection I am constantly adding to and justifies why you should explore this series.

Skills in high demand

Strategic decision-making requires a variety of skills: 

  • Systematic yet flexible problem solving

  • Clarity of thought and expression

  • Conviction to pursue your decisions

  • Collaboration and buy-in creation 

  • Thinking like a senior executive 

Companies invest heavily in corporate training programs to equip their managers with these skills so that they can handle greater responsibilities and drive critical projects or businesses. 

Corporate superpowers

As someone who designs and leads such programs for a living, I can tell you that senior executives treat strategic decision-making skills as corporate superpowers — superpowers, I may add, that unlock access to senior leaders, interesting projects, and promotions.  

Why superpowers? Because:

  1. Strategic decision-making is a core, never-ending business activity across a broad range of topics

  2. There is no “one right way” to go about it, requiring a tailored approach to every situation

  3. Most managers are not happy with the current decision-making quality

Let’s explore each of these reasons next (I’ll offer tons of real-life examples of what types of topics companies tackle all the time — readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for real-life examples).

1. Strategic decision-making is a core, never-ending business activity across a broad range of topics

While there are countless reasons why strategic decision-making is important, the basic reason is that it is a core business activity — companies need to make strategic decisions all the time and on all sorts of topics. Simply put, it is what companies do. 

Strategic decision-making helps businesses better address challenges and capture opportunities. Since the competitive environment of any business always changes, the need for strategic decision-making never goes away. In fact, the more dynamic the environment, the more often decisions need to be made.

To illustrate the broad range of topics that benefit from a strategic decision-making process, I’ve compiled a list of 20 real-life topics that companies frequently tackle (listed alphabetically).

As you read the list, select the topics that are relevant to what you do in your organization.  

  1. Distribution strategy

  2. Funding strategy

  3. Growth strategy

  4. Geography / international expansion 

  5. Internal projects prioritization

  6. Large capital expenditure

  7. Market entry

  8. Market exit

  9. Marketing decisions 

  10. Marketing spend strategy

  11. Mergers and acquisitions

  12. Monetization strategy

  13. New product launch 

  14. Partnership ecosystem strategy

  15. Pricing strategy

  16. Regulatory strategy

  17. Sales territory alignment

  18. Talent strategy 

  19. Technology investments

  20. User acquisition strategy

What other topics do you deal with that benefit from strategic decision-making skills?

2. There is no “one right way” to go about strategic decision-making, requiring a tailored approach to every situation

The second reason why strategic decision-making skills are in high demand is because there is no “one right way” to make business decisions. The process requires a tailored approach to every situation.

Thus, approaches do vary (e.g., deliberating, automating, prescribing, delegating, simulating). 

Each of these could be “the right way” in a given situation.

To illustrate, here is a list of 10 diverse real-life examples of decision-making approaches I’ve been involved with: 

  1. Form a cross-functional team to develop a talent strategy for approval by the company’s executive team 

  2. Establish a pricing committee with an explicit process for contract approvals, a standard pricing grid, and criteria determining when pricing exceptions can be considered 

  3. Retain management consultants to systematically think through the growth strategy of the business

  4. Delegate decisions on employment anniversary awards to an assistant

  5. Decide on product launches based on “test and learn” pilots in select markets 

  6. Explicitly articulate call center associates’ decision rights — when to decide on their own, and when to escalate to a supervisor

  7. Automate decisions on credit applications with a computerized algorithm for approval or disapproval based on information provided by customers 

  8. Organize a war gaming simulation to decide on pricing strategy in a maturing market with a handful of competitors 

  9. Delegate all decisions to autonomous teams accountable for their outcomes

  10. Engage every employee in the company to develop its culture and values statement

3. Most managers are not happy with the current decision-making quality 

The third reason why strategic decision-making skills are in high demand is because the majority of managers are not happy with the quality of strategic decisions: 

  • Only 28% of a McKinsey survey’s respondents said strategic decisions in their companies are generally good. 

  • A further 60% said good decisions are made as often as bad decisions. 

  • And 12% said good strategic decisions are infrequent.  

[Source: McKinsey Quarterly survey results, published in an article titled “The Case for Behavioral Strategy,” in which the authors, Dan Lovallo, a professor at the University of Sydney, and Olivier Sibony, a director at McKinsey, make a case for a deliberate process that safeguards against common decision-making biases.]

That said, even if the decision’s quality is considered good, the strategic decision-making process can always be improved. 

To relate this to your own experience, please brainstorm one idea of how decision-making can be improved in your company.

Link to your experience

Here is an idea for you — it will help you reflect on and evaluate what you just read. As you go about your day today, pay attention to:

  • The diversity of topics that the decision-makers in your company are making decisions on

  • The various approaches decision-makers around you are using in their situation

  • The “corporate superpowers” your colleagues use in decision-making

Just make a mental note when you observe any of these and link them to the importance of strategic decision-making skills.

Please explore other blog posts in this Strategic decision-making series.

Originally written by Aneta Key in February 2016. Last edited November 2018.