I interviewed a number of senior leaders in fast-growing organizations to see how they engaged in strategic thinking. Before I share some outcomes of those interviews, let’s define strategic thinking.
Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty in their book, Becoming a Strategic Leader, define strategic thinking as “the collection, interpretation, generation, and evaluation of information and ideas that shape an organization’s sustainable competitive advantage.” Add to this Bill Birnbaum’s perspective in Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle, “It is a top-down, big picture view (and), based on a deep understanding of your business, focusing on doing the right things rather than doing things right.”
In short, strategic thinking is a learning process and involves:
• analyzing emerging trends for opportunities or threats
• developing an organizational response to take advantage of the potential opportunity
or to be prepared to mitigate the potential threat
In our everchanging environment, the ability to do this faster and more effectively than others will give the organization a competitive advantage.
Many, if not most, of the business owners and senior executives with whom we work feel the tension of dealing with today’s urgencies while keeping an eye on the horizon in this fast-changing, global economy. Too often they spend considerable, if not all of their time working in the business vs working on the business.
Here are some specific ways they engaged in strategic thinking:
• Network with progressive leaders in their field and discuss emerging trends
• Invite trusted outside leaders and/or consultants in their industry to review and comment on their operations
• Facilitate a learning organizational culture
• Use outside consultants to provide input
• Evaluate managers and/or link bonuses to strategic initiatives
• Expose staff to industry-leading speakers
• Develop boards of directors with knowledgeable members
• Subscribe to leading industry and/or business journals and circulate them among managers and others
Based on what they learned in the strategic thinking process, these leaders used the following techniques for communicating organizational changes internally and externally:
• Personally talked with employees and customers, individually and/or in groups
• Incorporated vision into the orientation for new employees
• Updated their website and other organizational literature
• Spoke about the vision whenever the opportunity arose
• Connected the vision with the budgetary process
• Connected elements of the vision to the evaluation or promotional process
• Interjected the new vision into a formal strategic planning process
• Created a culture around the new vision and/or a culture that is prepared to respond faster
• Connected decisions to elements of the vision and/or strategic plan, so other stakeholders could see how
decisions related to the organization’s strategic direction
• Involved staff in regularly assessing the environment and competitors to sustain a competitive advantage
• Tied managerial bonuses to the organization’s vision
• Required sub-units to develop business plans that reflected the vision
Strategic thinking is a practice whose time has come.
Progressive leaders will increasingly rely on strategic thinking to sense the right direction.
To what extent do you engage in strategic thinking?
Who is your thought partner who will challenge your thinking and assumptions?
At Switzer Associates, our coaches can serve as thought partners to challenge your thinking or work with your team to freshen up your company’s vision.