INSEAD Participant Interview
Strategy Execution Programme
Immediate impact on your organisation
"Dora Horjus shares her experience on how the Strategy Execution Programme can change the way you think and how you put strategy into action."
Where are you now in your career?
I am currently the Executive Director of the COT Institute for Safety, Security and Crisis Management, which is part of Aon – a global financial risk and insurance broker headquartered in London/Chicago. My responsibilities have included integrating the unit’s activities to ensure overall business profitability and sustainability. Recently, I was also tasked with leading our crisis management practice in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and expanding our position in these regions.
What were your key challenges prior to joining INSEAD’s programme?
Although we were acquired by Aon more than seven years ago, we initially continued to operate more like an independent company, thanks to our strong reputation, thought leadership position and trusted client base. But then we realised that we needed to move closer to the core business of Aon and develop a closer synergy with the organisation, as this would bring us greater benefits in terms of risk reduction, insurance and international market presence. This process of integration has been a challenging one. It’s involved, for instance, transforming the Institute from a project-driven organisation to a client-driven one, and turning our former academic research team into trusted business advisors to senior management of the clients. We needed to enhance our corporate strategy to ensure we overcame these challenges. So I decided to look for an executive education programme that focused on combining strategy with execution – and I found INSEAD.
What were some of the factors that made you decide to enrol in the programme? Did you consider other institutions?
At first, I considered going to either Harvard Business School or London Business School. But my human resources department and other colleagues who had graduated from other INSEAD programmes spoke highly of the Strategy Execution Programme. I also heard from former students that INSEAD’s programmes offered a better balance between theory and practice than many others. I was also very attracted by the idea of the international outlook INSEAD offers, as its participant base is made up of people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
What kind of expectations did you have? Were these expectations met?
My expectations were quite high, but all were met – and indeed, exceeded. I expected a mix of the best case studies, inspiring professors, diverse participants and above all, practical use. What I wasn’t looking for was a traditional strategic management programme where you are encouraged to look five to ten years ahead when making decisions. I wanted to learn how to design strategy execution plans now, for use within agile environments.
One of the advantages of the programme is its clever design, which allows participants to ‘stress-test’ the strategy they come up with on the course back on the job. Before we started, we were required to prepare a business plan. In the first module, we explored various theoretical concepts and discussed how these affected our business plans – and what strategy would be right for our respective businesses. Then, once back at work, we moved into the action-learning phase, where we put the strategies to work. Finally, we regrouped at INSEAD for the second module, where we discussed and addressed the gaps that had come up in our strategies. By the end of the programme, each of us had a tested and carefully refined action plan.
What I appreciated most was the intensive coaching session I had with Professor Michael Jarrett a couple of months after the programme ended. Not only did it strengthen my knowledge, but it also helped me make sense of business strategy execution as a whole. It’s fundamentally changed the way I now present our company’s narrative.
What are some of your key takeaways from the programme?
Strategy alignment and execution is a day-to-day balancing act; a strategy that cannot be translated into action is not useful. That was the main takeaway for me. Another was learning the importance of translating a theoretical strategy into successful business results and maintaining efficient, reliable operations. I also learned a great deal about hidden barriers and the importance of aligning all aspects of a business. Lastly, I learned that we needed more discrimination in my organisation’s reward system if we wanted to make our strategies work.
The programme helped me put together an action-based strategy that makes full use of our business potential, and create a more enriched value proposition that clearly sets out our company’s values and features.
Did the programme help you address the challenges you mentioned above?
Absolutely. Our company had the best year ever in 2015, with deeper client relationships and a more sustainable business model. We have now successfully adopted Aon’s core ‘client promise’ programmes and widened our range of offerings for both our global and national clients. Interestingly, we achieved a 28% increase in revenue growth whilst at the same time introducing more flexible work options and contracts for our employees. This was a strategy that came out of the programme.
Did you benefit from the diversity of students that were on this programme?
There was a great deal of student diversity in terms of job functions and industries – from healthcare, finance and energy, to operations and commercial. It was terrific to have so many ideas, perspectives and feedback from different industries and companies. What’s interesting was that despite the differences, we discovered that we were all facing similar business issues.
What did you think of the faculty, their style and teaching methodologies?
Would you believe it if I told you that a professor started a class by singing and dancing? The INSEAD faculty is confident enough to try unconventional methods to engage students because they know that they are the best in their academic field. Not only do they know how to gather knowledge, but they also know how to disseminate it in the most effective way possible. In short, the faculty fosters a positive and professional learning environment.
Would you recommend this programme to friends or colleagues? Why?
Definitely – in fact, start tomorrow if you can. This programme will change your business perspective and career for the better. I have seen highly experienced managers make a 180-degree shift in their leadership styles and ideas in just a couple of months. Now, they’re much more effective than before because this programme changes the way you think and put strategy into action. And if all of that is not convincing enough, INSEAD’s cafeteria has great food and daily specials and our programme coordinator, Cécile, is one of the best you can have!