Why “Fit” Matters in Your Strategy

Posted on April 14, 2016

Proctor Academy is in the midst of another record setting admissions cycle, however, when asked why there is such strong demand for a Proctor education, we often struggle to articulate a concise answer. Proctor’s educational model works not because of a single program, but because of the unique combination of programs and culture undergirding those programs.

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Michael E. Porter wrote one of the best pieces on organizational strategy for the Harvard Business Review in 1996 titled What is Strategy? in which he described the essential role of ‘fit’ in an organization’s strategy. He writes, “The essence of strategy is choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do…operational effectiveness is about achieving excellence in individual activities, but strategy is about combining activities.”

It is this concept of ‘fit’ that Porter emphasizes as perhaps the single most important piece of an organization’s strategy. As he outlines Southwest Airline’s unique strategy in the early 1990s to separate themselves from other airlines by reducing fares, eliminating meals, and speeding up turnarounds for flights at each gate, he notes the company’s competitive advantage comes from the way its activities fit and reinforce each other, not from their individual strength. “Fit locks out imitators by creating a chain that is as strong as its strongest link…One activity’s value within a company can be enhanced by a company’s other activities.”

This is what I continue to observe at Proctor. Sure, we have amazing programs. Term-long off-campus programs like Ocean Classroom, Mountain Classroom, and European Art Classroom seamlessly intersect with AP courses and one of the finest academic support programs in the country. Each of these individual factors are wholly replicable by other schools (if they were to so choose). We are not the only school to offer a term-abroad program, or an academic support program, or rigorous academic courses. We are not the only independent school to have a remarkable sense of community. But we ARE the only school to offer all of these in one things in one place and that is what families continue to value. It is the ‘fit’ of Proctor’s model that is so appealing.

Porter notes the concept of fit is one of the oldest ideas in strategic thinking, but has largely been lost as leaders have looked to refine core competencies, critical resources, and to measure key success factors on an individual manner. Schools worry about participation within a given program, or see a competitor launching a new program and immediately feel the need to offer the same for fear of being left behind. What leaders must remember is one program’s value within a company should be enhanced by the quality of other programs. Iron sharpens iron, and when the ‘fit’ of your strategy is contingent upon the collective success of your programs, you cannot, as Porter notes,  “Decouple a single program from the whole.”

At Proctor, we know our competitive advantage comes from the entirety of what we offer our students. This was the genius of the school’s leadership forty years ago when this interconnected web of programs was first developed, and remains the strength of our educational model. As you continue to evolve your school’s strategy, be sure you understand the role of ‘fit’ in your plan. 

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