The Zoom live case is provided in an earlier post. Most instructors are all or partially online now so I’m sharing some online tips for teaching the case. The key task here is to use some asynchronous learning before a synchronous session so you can hit the ground running. One really important tip: Use worksheet assignments and Google docs for group breakouts in synchronous sessions. Here’s how:
Asynchronous Zoom Assignments. I’ve created “worksheets” using essay questions in the Canvas survey/quiz tool. These questions are structured so the answers need not be long and are easy to grade. I have two worksheet assignments.
Strategy Diamond Worksheet. I use Hambrick & Fredrickson’s strategy diamond framework to answer the question “what is strategy?” I entered the worksheet as a quiz/survey in canvas but the link is the answer key in MS Word. Specifically, the prompt is: Zoom recently entered conferencing hardware, describe the strategy using the framework (e.g., Arena, Differentiator, Staging/Pacing, Vehicles, Economic Logic). While these are short essay questions, it is easy to see if they are able to understand the framework and allows synchronous sessions to move faster.
5 Forces Worksheet. The 5 forces worksheet is also entered as a canvas survey. For each force, students list 3 actors ordered by their impact on industry profitability. Then they explain their ordering briefly. For buyer power: List several types of buyers in the video conferencing industry (at least 3) where each might be thought of as a market niche. Put them in order reflecting their willingness to pay (high to low). Then indicate a few factors that drive the differences in willingness to pay. Again, it is easy to grade since it is clear whether they understand from the order.
Synchronous Activities. Here, I rely on group breakouts with Google docs. Here are two such activities.
Industry evolution. The link goes to a 5 forces worksheet for before, during and after the pandemic (3 tables in the doc). As a breakout exercise, I assigned 2 teams to each page of the worksheet and told them to start at different places in the framework. Then, after 10 minutes, I brought them to the main room, shared the Google Doc and asked the teams to describe their analysis to predict how the industry will develop (post pandemic) – rivalry, growth, willingness to pay, etc. These are used to develop assumptions in the next exercise.
Financial Scenario Analysis. This link goes to a Google sheet with 8 Zoom financial models based on: 1) Rival product quality 2) Rival price competition, and 3) Zoom’s continued innovation/quality. Varying these 3 sources of uncertainty (H/L) generates 8 scenarios. I assigned each team to a scenario and at breakout, sent them all to the Google sheet to predict profit margins and revenue growth in that scenario. We then discussed the probabilities associated with each scenario. the bottom line was that the market capitalization was so high that selling the company should probably be considered as a very real alternative (e.g., what problem are you trying to solve?).
As many of us prepare to move our strategy courses online, we need video “shorts” that introduce core strategy principles to go along with key readings. By now, you may have already seen collections by David Kryscynski, Shad Morris, and others in the toolbox. Melissa Schilling has graciously made a new set of videos available that address core strategy principles not found in the other collections. See also her related collection focused around innovation strategy (note that there is some overlap). Below is her video introducing agency problems as a sample.
In addition, she covers the following topics that may be useful for a strategy course:
How can we make online courses more interactive? Often people create videos of their PPT lectures as the basis of an online course. We know we can do better. It turns out that negotiation exercises can work surprisingly well online. My MicroTech negotiation exercise is described in a previous post. Here, I describe a simple adaptation to use it in an online course. The negotiation focuses on the problems promoting cooperation across divisions (for example to achieve synergies). In the exercise, two general managers negotiate over the terms to transfer a technology to take advantage of a market opportunity. Sub-optimal agreements (money left on the table) represent transaction costs and inefficiencies that must be overcome to create corporate value. The debrief can also focus on alignment of activities/units to achieve a strategy. The discussion focuses on how to achieve requisite cooperation. This is hard to achieve in a competitive culture. How, then, can the firm create a cooperative culture? This, it turns out, may be a VRIO resource…
To conduct this exercise online, follow these steps
Assign roles and negotiation partners from the class list (1/2 of the class in each role). The roles can be emailed to the individuals with their assigned negotiating partners. I would try to pair them with people they may be less likely to know well to simulate negotiating across divisions (usually not someone on the same project team, etc.).
Students conduct the negotiation (outside of class) at a time of their choosing. It can be done through video conference, email, or in person.
Collect agreements (have them emailed back) by the night before class. Better yet, you might want to set up a simple poll to collect the agreements (like this one which will allow you to download the results and copy them into the spreadsheet that is used to summarize/analyze the results).
Debrief can be synchronous or asynchronous
Synchronous. In a synchronous session, you can present the results of the negotiation and engage in a rich discussion of organizational design and strategy. What levers would students suggest changing to increase coordination between units? (focus on things like incentives, structure, people, processes/routines, etc.). But this takes a lot of class time to do it right.
Asynchronous debrief of outcome. I recommend recording or posting an overview of the results and conduct the discussion asynchronously (here is an example of a recorded debrief). This allows you focus the synchronous debrief on organizational design solutions for the company (to promote cooperation across divisions). That is the essence of the problem and it is best to devote as much class time to it as possible.
Synchronous discussion of organizational design. The key learning objective for me is to get them to understand how hard cooperation can be to achieve. It is critical to get to this in the debrief. I assigned teams (4-6 students) to make recommendations to improve coordination (less $ left on the table). Each team focused on a lever (of Galbraith’s Star Framework) such as incentives, org structure, people (hiring/firing), or processes/routines. I had each team work in breakout groups (or offline) in a shared Google worksheet. The asynchronous approach may work better as teams can think through their recommendations.
Firms often make errors in selecting governance forms and the scope of the firm. This is one common reason firms must undergo painful periodic restructuring programs. If only managers could frame these problems more effectively and identify the key factors to make more informed decisions — in short, a primer on Transaction Cost Economics (TCE). Brian Silverman provides just that tool in a sequence of three short videos. This is especially useful in today’s online teaching environment since transaction cost economics readings may not be the most user-friendly. I might add that this overview provides an excellent introduction for PhD students prior to diving into academic readings on the topic. Here is the second of the videos explaining the predictions of transaction cost economics.
Much of the news focuses on how hard businesses have been hit by the pandemic. However, strategy is about finding opportunities and adapting in a dynamic environment. Let’s not forget to focus on inspirational examples along these lines. Send students on a scavenger hunt (like the business combination scavenger hunt) to find unique examples. Invite students to identify 5 innovations have each student introduce an innovation and others who have the same innovation must cross it off their list. Note that this could be done in an online discussion forum. See how many unique innovations your class can identify. This can be done easily in a synchronous online session or in threaded discussion. Some types of examples to consider:
New Treatments. Of course many firms are working to find treatments and/or an effective vaccine. These efforts are spread around the world so it is a race to see what will be most effective.
Product Adaptations. Some products can be adapted to new uses and it is a question of how to recognize those opportunities. For example, Kinsa thermometers has collected data on fevers due to normal influenza patterns. The were then able to back out normal patterns to identify atypical fevers that might be due to COVID before patients began showing up in emergency rooms.
Process Adaptations: Many service firms have adapted their processes to avoid contact. Some firms may be better equipped to do this than others (physical facilities, etc.) and it may help them survive. Even some farmers who have lost distribution channels have created contactless alternatives while others have had to destroy food that they could not get to market.
Delivery Partners as a lifeline. Restaurants and other businesses often rely on partners to get their products to consumers. While these partners may have been a side business previously, they are a critical lifeline now (see EatStreet, GrubHub, DoorDash and others). Amazon has also done better than other retailers for this reason.
Products in heavy demand. It isn’t just toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Other products have experienced significant demand and need to adapt their supply chains and processes to meet needs. Automatic door openers, video conferencing tools like zoom, door cameras like ring, are all in greater demand than anticipated.
Will presents his 5 forces plus 3 more framework. In the video, he discussed the standard 5 forces framework but adds the following 3 critical elements that are left out of the five forces: Complementors, Social forces, and new strategies. Complementors are organizations that provide complementary products or services to an industry (e.g., cases for iPhones). New strategies refer mostly to rivals who are pursuing distinct strategies that may alter the fundamental way that firms compete in the industry. Social forces refer to the customer values and norms that may affect their preferences and thus, their willingness to pay. In short, these additions may serve to unpack factors that drive change in the five forces over time in an industry. Here is the video:
Here are a couple of great videos from Shad Morris on international strategy. The first focuses on how to evaluate the overall health of a country’s economy. This is important in assessing the business environment for strategic investment. Is a given market attractive? This might also lead into a nice discussion of comparative advantage of nations. If so, this might be another application of the Global Game exercise. The second video offers the distinction between multi-domestic, mega-national, and trans-national.
PEST analysis can be helpful to identify trends or factors outside of a firm’s focal industry that will ultimately affect the industry. It stands for Political, Economic, Socio-cultural, and Technological factors. PESTEL is a similar framework that adds Environmental and Legal trends to the mix. The PEST framework is simple but it has the advantage of focusing trend analysis efforts so you can cover ground in a more systematic fashion (than, for example, SWOT analysis which is quite unsystematic). Shad Morris’ video below offers a great introduction to the analytic framework.