What does it really mean to be strategic? Early in my career I heard that “In order to succeed you have to be strategic”. Think strategically and that’s how you will advance. And then I had a performance appraisal. “Doing really well in all areas – projects are great, you deliver on everything that’s expected.” But, (you know that “but” in performance appraisals!) “you need to think more strategically to be promoted”. Again! It was time to do something and since then I have made a career out of understanding and helping others to be more strategic.
I’ve only just realized this is what I am doing. I thought what I was doing was helping teams and individuals have long terms plans so they could succeed. I was, and they did and still do. But there was something more.
One day someone asked me “Could you help our managers think more strategically?” “I’m not a trainer” I said. “I don’t develop people, I facilitate them through a process” Then I thought about some of the great teams that I have worked with and realized that they have grown their strategic thinking capability by doing the work in creating plans, implementing them and reviewing and updating on a regular basis. They have expanded their time horizons from annual plans to five year plans. They have broadened their thinking, not just thinking about their team and their immediate environment, but also considering a range of stakeholders, who are impacted by the decisions they make. They are amazing strategic thinkers. Incidentally their businesses, teams or organizations have also achieved remarkable results – whether it be measured in market share, revenue, profitability or by a more intangible value added. The organisations they have worked in have benefited in many ways.
So what do you need to do to be more of a strategic thinker?
- Live and see strategic thinking in action. Get involved in developing long range plans. Challenge the direction that others are setting, ask why and understand the risks and benefits of various options.
- Take the time to think what it would mean for others who will be impacted by your decisions – go and ask them!
- Learn from others – go on training courses, read books – but most importantly use what you have learnt.
Let me know if you have got any other tips – or if you want to know more about strategic thinking in action look at Everyone in that direction now or choosing the right strategic planning process– or get in touch!
- Andy Williams for early interventions and the various questions and contributions he has made to my strategic thinking including the review of this article.
- Anne Dean for the opportunity to increase her organisations strategic thinking
- Mike Mair for his thoughts on growing strategic capability