I received this email today from an executive education program and it’s yet another example of how antiquated and disconnected they are from the real world. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely believe we all need to keep educating ourselves. But this top university exec ed program just isn’t delivering the actionable insights today’s leaders need.

The seminar is on “Strategy and Value Creation: Capturing, Delivering, and Measuring Value.” It promises you’ll learn to “use strategic tools and frameworks to create sources of competitive advantage” and “translate them to customer-centered value creation for your firm.” I have no problem with that. But the next learning objective waves a red flag.

“Shape your organization’s environment to align strategic goals and organizational delivery.” How do you accomplish that without a thorough understanding of the theory, application, and implementation of strategic relationships? Not one word in the email—or the brochure I downloaded from their website–about relationships! No mention of the critical role relationships play in creating competitive advantage, or translating that advantage to a value proposition the market needs and will pay for.

Last time I looked, “strategy” meant a vision of the future with a path to get there. The primary focus is usually the tasks—what you’ll do—and the action plan–how you’ll do it. But there is another critical question: “who?” As in, Who do you need? Who do you know? And how you can build strategic relationships with them based on reciprocal value delivery?

From the program, it appears the good professors designing executive education for this university believes leaders who want to enhance their ability to capture, deliver, and measure value should completely ignore any strategic value in their biggest asset—their portfolio of relationships.

Maybe these educators simply assume executives understand the link between relationships, strategy, and execution. Maybe they think we are all surrounded with team members who are fully capable of developing relationships. Maybe they feel no need exists to expend any time, effort, or resources to train leaders and managers in this crucial skill.

“Shaping your organization’s environment to align strategic goals and organizational delivery” is all about relationships! Last time I checked, people prioritize tasks for people they know, like, and trust. Otherwise, get in line—because my priority today just isn’t you!

Value creation in the marketplace is all about consistently and productively identifying, building, and nurturing relationships. Your firm’s only sustainable competitive advantage comes from its strategic relationships at individual, team, and cross-functional, organization-wide levels. Price alone is not a sustainable differentiator—it’s a commodity strategy and a temporary one at best. Someone else will come out with a faster, cheaper, better product tomorrow. You’re left with a “fast-follower” strategy—if you survive at all. Strategic relationships are a firm’s only truly sustainable source of competitive differentiation.

This university wants to teach you about “customer-centered value creation”? In the 21st century, they’re wasting your money if they can’t deliver education that prioritizes strategic relationships. Social media has transformed marketing communications into one big conversation controlled by your customers, partners, employees, and the media—everyone but you. (See my earlier post, “Companies No Longer Own Their Brands.”) Everyone is out there in the social landscape, sharing his or her experiences with your brand.

All you control is your firm’s authentic commitment to a brand promise that connects a compelling value proposition to consumers’ needs and desires. Your focus must be on cultivating relationships that contribute to that conversation—minimizing any gaps between what you promise and what they experience. If you continue to create reciprocal value in your portfolio of strategic relationships, the market will reward you. I don’t see that simple insight in this university’s executive education program.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m disappointed in the elitist, backward-gazing curriculum they have chosen to offer. The only place value will be captured and delivered at this program is during the coffee breaks—because that’s where strategic relationships live.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Commit to lifelong learning. But do your due diligence to assure its relevant to the 21st century.
  2. Prioritize learning opportunities that enhance your ability to initiate, nurture, and capitalize on strategic relationships.
  3. Never forget: your biggest asset is your portfolio of strategic relationships. Create reciprocal value there, and success will follow.
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