For years “strategic thinking” has been reserved for executive team meetings or board rooms as part of a firm’s strategic planning process. However, the highly dynamic environments we operate in today means that the assumptions and agreements that form the basis of strategic plans can shift dramatically between these highly structured planning process.
Strategic thinking capabilities should be relied upon frequently and often informally to maintain and possibly accelerate performance against long-range goals. Just as the captain of a large sailing vessel depends on the crew to assess and act given changing forces and challenges that arise on their journey. So too should any leadership team be able to depend on their managers to explore, evaluate and decide how to make changes and still keep the firm on course to achieve its long-range goals.
Questions that may require strategic thinking?
Is this an innovation we need to respond to now or can we watch and wait until our next long-range planning discussion and add it to a more extensive set of upgrades?
Should we replace the person that just left with the same skills or should we discuss we will need new competencies/different skills over the next two years?
I have the authority to make this decision, but are there others that may be impacted by this that I should consider before moving ahead?
Should we spend time next year enhancing our core offering (product set or services) or are there other priorities we should consider?
What is Strategic Thinking?
Strategic thinking is the practice of orienting decisions with the end in mind and work backward to ensure alignment of action to the ultimate goal. It is a discipline of evaluating alternatives and adapting decision-making to the ultimate goal rather than relying on a more limited and incremental problem-solving approach.
Strategic thinking is what is used to develop a strategic plan, and for those that participate in building the strategic plan, they should be prepared to guide implementation and make tactical decisions to stay on course. However, only a small fraction of managers within an organization participate in the strategic planning discussion. The need for strategic thinking capabilities increases when managers driving operations have limited engagement with the leaders that authored the strategic plan or if the strategic plan has not been updated recently and seems less relevant to current challenges these managers are facing.
A Strategic Direction: the Prerequisite for Strategic Thinking
Leadership must first have established the core thinking that is the foundation of their future direction before they can attempt to build strategic thinking capabilities. When organizations are small, this knowledge is created organically working on the business alongside managers and team members, As organizations grow and create management hierarchies this informal sharing of perspective does not happen. Is at this time that a more formal strategic planning effort is required to produce a clear story of progress toward a shared future destination.
When strategic thinkers don’t have the context they need, they will manufacture it — leading to factions or divergent plans that can pull an organization apart.
Test to see if you have the strategic direction needed to build strategic thinking capabilities:
Do you have a clear, shared articulation of what you are ultimately striving to achieve?
Does everyone understand how you will measure success (on the whole, not as a department or individual)?
Is it widely understood how you will deliver on your mission over the long term?