Despite the desirability of strategic thinking, relatively few have a sound knowledge of how to embed this in their organisational culture. Demystifying what it means to think strategically can go a long way towards putting plans in place to encourage it and ensure it is being used to foster innovation.
WHAT IS STRATEGIC THINKING?
As with any innovation concept, starting with a simple definition that has been stripped of its buzzwords is a helpful place to start.
Business Dictionary defines strategic thinking as ‘the ability to come up with effective plans in line with an organisation's objectives within a particular economic situation.’ It also suggests that strategic thinking allows businesses to ‘review policy issues, perform long term planning, set goals and determine priorities, and identify potential risks and opportunities.’
Forbes contributor Carey-Ann Oestreicher adds that strategic thinking involves thinking ‘holistically about how [businesses] can streamline processes and leverage opportunities in order to be the very best in their sector.’ Oestreicher also adds that while this catch-all definition of strategy is a helpful place to start, it is important to remember that each organisation’s definition of strategic thinking as it relates to their goals is different, so it is important that all members of the team are working from the same page.
She explains: ‘if you have an idea of strategy and your boss has a totally different concept, you are never going to meet her expectations.’ Therefore, sitting down and discussing how each team member’s concept of strategy can be incorporated into wider organisational culture is a must when defining your strategic thinking approach.
So how do you translate this into action?
THREE WAYS TO EMBED STRATEGIC THINKING
1 - Use unique insights as your foundation
One of the core foundations of strategic thinking is the ability to collect insights and data and bring them together in an original way.
According to Inc.com ‘it’s surprising how many young companies overlook the importance of doing some solid research, analysis, and old-fashioned thinking.’ Inc. therefore suggests that in order to build a strong foundation for your strategic thinking, the first step is to evaluate. This involves looking for ‘alternative, diverse sources of information about your company, your competitors, and your industry.’ By piecing together this information to generate new insights and then reflecting on these consistently, it is possible to build a long-term picture of your strategy.
2- Challenge your preconceptions
For Forbes contributor Shaun Rein, constantly challenging your preconceptions and listening to others is a vital element of strategic thinking. He suggests that while it is easy to surround yourself with those who think like you, these echo chambers only lead to restrictive patterns of group think and missed opportunities for innovation. Instead, Rein suggests a part of your daily routine should involve seeking out different opinions from your own and actively recruiting diverse teams to enrich the input into your strategy.
Carey-Ann Oestreicher agrees, suggesting reaching out to people across different departments is another way to achieve this. She argues you should:
‘befriend other leaders, managers, front-line staff and customers. Really listen to them and understand their roles, concerns and ideas. This will help build your knowledge of all parts of the organization. Then you can take the information you have learned from across the company and see how different areas could be utilized more fully as partners to help your area as well as other areas to be more effective in their projects.’
3 - Strengthen your decision-making skills
Ultimately building a strategy involves making difficult decisions. Paul Schoemaker, former research director at the University of Philadelphia’s Mack Institute, argues that ‘many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis”’ in which they are unable to move beyond the insights and ideas they have generated in order to put them into practice. To overcome this, Schoemaker suggests aiming for a balance of speed, quality and agility to translate ideas into action, rather than becoming bogged-down in over-analysing the task at hand.
By peeling away the jargon that often surrounds strategic thinking, the core elements of strong insight generation, open-mindedness and decision-making are clear to see. By following these three steps to embed strategic thinking into your organisational culture, it is possible to make this a part of your daily habits and deliver innovative results.
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