Research Articles

Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking is a clear value, in a leader’s toolbox and should be a sought-after attribute on any team. How, then, can we further develop strategic thinking in others and ourselves? There are many ways, but three stand out and are highly actionable.

Revive Curiosity

We all had it as kids but seem to have lost it in our increasingly task and process-oriented business environment where “Why” has fallen victim to “What, How, When and Who.” There’s barely enough time to keep up with the daily “To Do” without getting caught up in the “Why are we doing this.”

But the consequence of losing the “Why” is clear – employees who see no connection between process and purpose feel process is purposeless: They become disconnected, disinterested and disengaged; not a good recipe for commitment and certainly not for curiosity.

To reverse this, build into your leadership practice what I call the “Why for What” reflex; for every important project or body of work you engage in or delegate, explain why it is important and how it connects with the organization’s vision and strategy. Ask employees to make that connection as well so they see the process of doing related to the purpose of doing. Begin your meetings with an examination of critical projects and their importance and then discuss their status; start with strategy, then go to tactics and task.

Invite Diversity of Thought

Strategic Thinking done in a vacuum is nothing more than illusion. In order to fully vet any form of strategic idea, you have to include the affected constituents through a collaborative and iterative process. Don’t confuse this with brainstorming. This action also supports the rigor needed to teach your mind to look beyond the boundaries of the initial reaction and perceptions.

My experience shows that by involving others in the process, you benefit from diversity of thought and expedited due diligence through knowledge sharing. I fully understand that at times we don’t have the benefit of this extension of the “thinking process” yet, I would suggest you seek it when it is available.

Know your Preferred way of Thinking

Is it more convergent than divergent, more right brain than left brain? All are good but for different reasons, know those reasons, so you can adjust accordingly.

Thinking strategically has characteristics of divergent and right brain thinking – holistic, intuitive, non-linear. Implementing strategy is more convergent and left brain – logical, sequential, and detailed. The best “strategists” aspire to Whole Brain modeling.

You are capable of both, however, your preferred is your default; know it (what you know you can control, what you don’t know controls you) so you can function effectively when faced with a situation requiring a different mode of thinking.

In Conclusion

Curiosity, Diversity, and Thinking Styles are all components of strategy and acting on these allows us to become more effective strategic thinkers. As Michael Porter infers, every leader must be a strategic leader and develop the capacity of all to think and act strategically. If employees don’t know what the organization’s strategy is, the organization, in effect, has no strategy.

Thinking, leading, and communicating strategically are the fundamentals for creating a culture of alignment, engagement, diversity, and clarity. Thus, creating an environment where everyone knows why they are doing what they are doing and never lose sight of the vision or the corresponding strategies that create competitive advantage and organizational success. Additionally, all of this leads to innovation and idea generation, which underpin your organization’s competitive advantage. We can all play a part in that process and need to remain cognizant of how critical our individual contributions are to the wider goal.

Think about the places you already use strategic thinking:

  • Vacation planning
  • Family planning
  • Home improvement
  • Financial planning

Now ask yourself if you bring it to work:

  • Project work
  • Process work
  • Networking
  • Problem solving

If you can identify with any activity in the lists above, and there is a gap between what you do in or outside of the work environment, you have to consider the fact of already having the strategic thinking skill set. So, the challenge and conclusion is that you need to leverage the examples discussed at the beginning of this article into “everything” and every “moment” to ensure you are provoking the behavior of strategic thinking.

Written by Frank Ferrante and Phil Ventresca, MBA