Strategic Thinking – A Task For All Employees

An organization needs to be well positioned in the marketplace so as to enjoy

– a competitive advantage if a for-profit business, and

– a solid reputation if a not-for-profit organization.

The organization also needs to operate efficiently and cohesively so as to achieve desired results. Strategy encompasses a gamut of activities. These focus areas will be explored in a series of articles on strategy; namely,

o strategic thinking,

o strategic planning,

o strategic alignment,

o strategic implementation,

o strategic agility, and

o strategic planning training

First, we will examine the all encompassing concept of strategic thinking.

What is Strategic Thinking?

Strategic thinking is the process of developing and evaluating every decision and action in light of current and future circumstances, the direction you want to go in and the results you want to achieve. It involves being able to apply possibility thinking to every situation. It is not about doing “business as usual” but rather pushing the envelope to see what can be done smarter and what else can be done “instead of”, or as an “add on”, that would maximize opportunities. Every challenge, every problem, or every action that someone needs to face or embark on in the organization needs to be assessed in light of the broader context. This wider framework will better inform decision-making and ensure the functioning in an organization is done in a more integrated fashion and is aligned to the strategic goals.

Who Should Be Doing the Strategic Thinking?

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not solely the domain of the top leadership, nor is it the sole responsibility of a strategic planning unit. It is the responsibility of every person working in, or for, the organization. It is also not a once-off activity to be done when a strategic plan is being formulated. Having a strategic plan is one thing, but having every employee working that plan is the ideal. It also doesn’t mean blindly putting into action what appears in the plan. It requires time to re-evaluate, challenge, and adjust where necessary.

Just think of the potential if all employees, from first line of customer interface, to clerical administrator, to machine operator, to team leader, to specialist, to executive leadership, applied proactive thinking to their work. To add to that imagine every employee and leader considered the environmental context in which they operate, the resources they have at their disposal, the relationships they need to foster, and the most efficient way to operate so as to achieve the best results and sustain them. Can any organization today afford not to enable or encourage such a process!

What Does Strategic Thinking Entail?

Strategic thinking implies that all variables are considered – those that pertain to the internal environment of an organization or work area, and to the market environment outside of the organization and to the much broader macro external environment.

On a daily operational level, it consists of considering every factor that could impact upon, or be impacted by, any decision made or action taken. It involves ensuring alignment to the organization’s goals. The potential impact is ascertained so that strategic decisions can be made and subsequent required actions planned for.

What Skills are Required for Strategic Thinking?

The ability to:

o see the big picture

o initiate innovative ideas

o conceptualize complexity

o know the right questions to ask

o think horizontally and simultaneously

o integrate concepts, however disparate

o know when to ask searching questions

o apply lateral thinking to different situations

o challenge current processes, practices and strategy

o unearth alternative approaches, solutions or methods

There needs to be a culture in the organization that allows and enables strategic thinking to take place. Individual employees also have a responsibility to extend their skill set in this competency and be willing to initiate strategic thinking in different situations. Strategic thinking provides a start for any strategy process and it also ensures that the organization’s strategy will remain relevant throughout the year.