Strategic thinking is a process that defines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others. Strategic thinking is an extremely effective and valuable tool. One can apply strategic thinking to arrive at decisions that can be related to your work or personal life.
So what specific steps can you take to be more strategic in your current role?
Start by changing your mindset. If you believe that strategic thinking is only for senior executives, think again. It can, and must, happen at every level of the organization; it’s one of those unwritten parts of all job descriptions. Once you’ve accepted that it’s part of your job, focus on developing the following five key abilities that demonstrate your strategic prowess:
Observe and Seek Trends
In order to be strategic, you need a solid understanding of the industry context, trends, and business drivers. An intellectual appreciation of the importance of bringing in current data and seeking trends isn’t enough. You also have to:
- Make it a routine exercise to explore the internal trends in your day-to-day work. For example, pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over in your organization and synthesize the common obstacles your colleagues face.
- Be proactive about connecting with peers both in your organization and in your industry to understand their observations of the marketplace. Then, share your findings across your network.
- Understand the unique information and perspective that your function provides and define its impact on corporate level strategy.
Ask Tough Questions
With a fresh understanding of trends and issues, you can practice using strategic thinking by asking yourself, “How do I broaden what I consider?” Questions are the language of strategy. Appreciate that your life and prior experience gives you a unique, yet myopic, strategic lens. So push up your inquiry skills. By becoming more curious, and looking at information from different points of view, you will be able to see different possibilities, different approaches, and different potential outcomes.
One of the key pre requisites of strategic thinking is having relevant and broad business information that helps you elevate your thinking beyond the day-to-day, and then sharing the results of your thinking and efforts within your team. You can be mentored by someone highly strategic. Devise a well-articulated philosophy, a mission statement, and achievable goals to your team. You need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to stay focused and incorporate the strategy into your own plans and objectives.
Strategic thinkers also know how to speak the language. They prioritize and sequence their thoughts. They structure their verbal and written communication in a way that helps their audience focus on their core message. They challenge the status quo and get people talking about underlying assumptions. Those that are really skilled walk people through the process of identifying issues, shaping common understanding, and framing strategic choices.
Following are ways you can start developing these skills:
- Add more structure to your written and verbal communication. Group and logically order your main points, keep things as precise and brief as possible.
- Prime your audience by giving them a heads up on the overarching topics you want to address so they are prepared to engage in a higher level conversation, not just the tactical details.
- Practice giving the answer first, instead of building up to your main point.
Make Time for Thinking and Embracing Conflict
Try not to keep your schedule jam-packed, running from meeting to meeting as in such case you may find it difficult to contribute strategically without the time to reflect on the issues and to ponder options. Block out thinking time on your calendar and honour it, just as you would for meetings. Fight back the initial guilt of “Am I doing real work when I’m just sitting at my desk thinking?”
Practice other key skills. Learn to embrace debate and to invite challenge, without letting it get personal so that you can ask tough questions. To do this, focus on issues, not people, and use neutral peers to challenge your thinking.
The quest to build your strategic skills can be uncomfortable. At first, you might feel like you’re kicking up sand in the ocean. You may need to manage through the unsettling feelings that come with challenging your own assumptions and gaining comfort with conflict and curiosity. Once the dust settles, however, and you’re able to contribute at a higher level, you’ll be glad you took the risk.