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July 2000
Volume 7 • Number 3


Focus on the Classroom
Teaching Strategy and Policy
Using the Baldrige Award Criteria

Prior to teaching an MBA course in business policy, it was decided that direct experience building a strategic plan was superior to endless analyses of case histories. Students were instructed to solicit organizations as clients and to constitute themselves into two to six person teams. To guide students in the strategy development process, a how-to model was sought in textbooks on strategic planning, but none was found. Therefore, the implicit model contained in the Baldrige Award criteria for excellence was used to extract a how-to model. After analyzing the demands required in criteria 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7, the class determined how to proceed. Students collected data from company files, management interviews, industry and business publications, and library references. The problems with incomplete data, recalcitrant managers, conflicting priorities, motivational avoidance, and so on were encountered, and methods were developed by students for dealing with them. The collected data were analyzed utilizing methods from the assigned textbook. By the end of the semester, students had developed complete strategic plans and presented them to the client companies. Both the companies and the students felt enriched by the experience.

Key words: experiential learning, strategic planning

by Selwyn W. Becker, University Of Chicago


Most courses purporting to teach business policy and/ or strategy utilize cases and readings, or cases and a textbook, or simply a series of case studies. After 12 or 16 weeks spent analyzing cases one expects that any college student, undergraduate or MBA, would have learned how to analyze cases. Will she or he have learned how to develop a strategic plan when faced with a real company? Even the best students have difficulty applying theory to actual situations. Never are actual situations a perfect match for any of the cases used in class. Further, cases usually present students with data to analyze. These cases very infrequently present students with bare situations and then require students to determine what information and data they need, determine how to obtain such data, and then apply them to the situation. Further, case analyses do not confront students with managers who promise to provide data on some future date only to later say they “didn’t have enough time” to satisfy the request. Given these weaknesses in the typical format, especially the almost ubiquitous faculty comment that students just can’t apply theory to practical situations without a lot of practice, it was decided that perhaps the best way to teach strategic planning is to have students experience the development of a strategic plan–to have them develop an actual strategic plan for a functioning company.