Felipe Csaszar Analyzes the Effect of Strategy Courses on Student Success
Felipe Csaszar, professor of strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and his collaborator Mana Heshmati, assistant professor at the University of Washington and Michigan Ross PhD alum, recently published research showing how a strategy course can impact student confidence, business skills, and leadership development.
Published in Organization Science, “Learning Strategic Representations: Exploring the Effects of Taking a Strategy Course” investigates how MBA students benefit from their first core strategy course. The research highlights the importance of strategy as both a learning tool and a business skill. By measuring the cognitive abilities and the business acumen gained from strategy courses, the research is particularly impactful in understanding the value of a business school education.
Csaszar’s previous research focuses on analyzing the ability of business leaders and teams to make effective decisions. For this project, Csaszar and Heshmati intended to test the impact of a strategy course on students' ability to make informed decisions and prove the value of strategy courses in graduate-level business studies.
“The strategy course is very influential. Every MBA worldwide takes that course, but we didn’t know its effect. Do people become better at making strategic decisions because they take the course or not? So, it felt like this was a very important question that hadn't been addressed before,” said Csaszar.
The value of a strategy course
The research studied 2,269 MBA students between 2014 and 2019 by simulating the experience of being an investor with the power to fund a start-up. The students were shown a series of pitch videos from Kickstarter to evaluate and asked to describe how they would engage with them from an investment strategy perspective.
The research observed three main characteristics of the students throughout the course – the effects on performance, mental representations, and self-perception. These characteristics represent how accurately students can predict successful outcomes, ideate challenges, articulate strategic analysis, understand and express uncertainty, and express strategic ideas confidently and knowledgeably, all of which are measurable predictors of effective strategic planning.
These observable qualities were quantified and analyzed by Csaszar and Heshmati. The study found that after completing the course, students could more accurately predict effective strategies, understand business aspects through industry and competitive analysis, and were more confident in their decision-making ability. In all, the effect of taking a strategy course was substantially positive along every dimension they measured.
Closing the confidence gap
An impactful section of the research discusses the effect of strategy courses on leveling the gender-based confidence gap. Previous literature suggests that women in learning and professional environments often exhibit greater verbal and big-picture problem-solving skills but often lack confidence to express their ideas. Previous research shows that the gender-based confidence gap can affect learning outcomes and directly impact overall career trajectories. The study shows how a strategy course can impact the confidence gap and what challenges still need to be addressed.
“After taking the strategy course, we observe that those with less prior business knowledge (women and engineers in this case) experience significant changes in both decision-making accuracy and mental representations. However, when it comes to self-perceptions, women remain less confident and find the course more difficult than men,” said Mana Heshmati, who holds a PhD in Strategy from Michigan Ross and currently serves as an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Washington.
Csaszar and Heshmati hope their research will lead to the development of new teaching methodologies to improve learning outcomes for women in the strategy classroom. “Our research shows there is room for improving learning in the classroom for women. One way to help combat this gap is by incorporating case studies that portray female protagonists in non-traditional industries such as the makeup industry or the feminine hygiene industry. I’ve found that incorporating these industries into course material empowers women,” said Heshmati.
The future of strategy courses
Looking forward, Csaszar and Heshmati hope their research can open the door for more pedagogical research in the field of strategy. Their study gives a hopeful outlook for professors of strategy that their courses impact students’ decision-making skills and give them confidence in the future of the field. Csaszar hopes their study can spur future discussion and research to further enhance strategy courses.
“I think there are many things that could be done. Ideally, I would like all strategic courses to do a similar exercise to measure how much people learn. Then, we will learn how to further increase strategy courses' value. If you don't measure, you cannot improve,” said Csaszar. “Another question that needs to be answered is what happens in the longer term. We measured what people learned after taking just one course, but we don't know how that lasts over time. How much do people remember, and how does it affect their decision-making two, five, or ten years down the road? We don't know. Continuing research allows us to get a more evidence-based way of teaching strategy.”