STRATEGY IN THE DRAWER, I.E. IT IS ACTING, NOT WRITING, THAT MATTERS
Each organisation competes in a specific place, in a certain way, having a range of capabilities and management systems – all of these result from choices that were and are made every day by people in the organisation. Precisely – more or less consciously, they make important (i.e.: strategic) decisions in business.
When managers complain about ineffective or non-existent company’s strategy, it is often a result of failure to fully realise that a strategy is what they do rather than what their bosses say.
So how come that some organisations operate effectively? Does it mean they have a better strategy than other ones? Actually not! In these organisations, strategic thinking is noticeable within and between the teams and their leaders. Strategic thinking means looking at your work from a broader perspective and over a longer term than usual. Strategic thinking therefore allows one to work more efficiently, so the team dedicates time and energy to where they bring the most benefits.
EFFECTIVE STRATEGY MEANS EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
In strategic thinking, it is crucial to link these points to make sure the machine does not jam and operates at its appropriate capacity, producing the product/service in a way which responds to the needs of their customers.
Therefore, if a strategy is what people do and not what the bosses say, it is absolutely necessary for every person in the organisation to know what it means to take actions consistent with the intentions, i.e., the company’s goals. They need to be aware of how their actions affect implementing this strategy. It is obviously easier when the strategy is written down and well communicated. Thus, there exists an information exchange system and communications are appropriately cascaded. This means that everyone in the company has a key role to play in implementing the strategy. And thinking about it does not only proceed from top to bottom, but also the other way around – leaders and teams ask themselves the following questions:
- What strategic intentions do the leaders at a level higher than mine have?
- What are the crucial choices I make within my range of responsibilities, and how are they linked with the strategy?
- How do I link my activities to the strategy and what arguments confirm that I take action strategically – what will I tell the bosses/investors/stakeholders about them?
- How can I present the link between our tasks and the strategy to the team?
As a manager, if you can implement the first three points, you will have influence on your choices and strategy. If you manage to complete the fourth task, you will make your employees understand what they are doing and thus they will become owners of their choices and your joint strategy. If you implement this mindset in the whole organisation at every level of responsibility, you will ensure that the strategy will be implemented as intended and will not be just a pile of wisely written pages.
WHO IS A LEADER WITH STRATEGIC THINKING?
Simply put, these are those who discern a broader perspective and have a holistic view on the ecosystem of their organisation and its stakeholders. They do not enclose themselves within their responsibilities. They anticipate significant market developments and identify emerging opportunities. A leader with strategic thinking:
- Knows how to work with limited resources and make difficult decisions to achieve team goals. Understands which priorities are key at a given moment to achieve the best results using the resources available.
- Creates and inspires people to develop a vision of what is possible.
- Does not get stuck in one place. Continuously directs their team towards achieving ambitious goals, experiments and makes informed decisions.
- Encourages the team to analyse the environment, to exchange opinions broadening the perspective – but also to act within the framework of the decisions made with courage.
The key to becoming a more strategic thinker is to learn how to continuously direct one’s thinking towards a broader perspective and go beyond the detail.
HOW TO BECOME A STRATEGIST? PRACTICAL ADVICE
Free yourself from performing small tasks
Thinking in a broader perspective is impossible when you are constantly working on multiple small tasks and filling the calendar with status meetings. Many managers think they have great time management skills, so judge it for yourself whether you are falling into a trap:
- Do you monitor what has been done and not what the results are?
- Do you have time to work on your key tasks only after your employees are out of the company, or do you work nights and weekends to catch up?
- Are your employees “waiting” for your ideas and not coming forth with any themselves?
- When you know that people are waiting for you to take a decision on many issues and you feel like a retardant, do you still want to be involved in specific topics at the executive level?
Well, if that is the case, by way of consolation, I can assure you that you are not alone. As many as 96% of leaders say that time (the lack thereof) is the biggest obstacle to strategic thinking.
You can help it by delegating more tasks. Authorise your team to undertake tasks that will give them an opportunity to learn. Analyse your schedule and check for appointments you can eliminate or outsource. Take control of your calendar by allocating time (strictly) to analyse the external environment, talk to people who will broaden your horizons, visit places that will give you knowledge of the market, read and go about self-improvement. Also, introduce the custom of sharing inspiration coming the company’s environment; coach your team to pay attention to various connections and also to spot the ones which will help build success on crises.
Look for solutions, not problems
This is my favourite area. It is not about duplicating the corporate mantra “that there are no problems, there are challenges”, at all. On the contrary, it is about noticing or even anticipating problems, but not becoming blocked by them, generating proposals for their potential solution instead. This is an exercise in behaviours and ways of thinking about situations where a problem can actually occur. The truth is that every business faces problems, so it is important not to elaborate on or keep enumerating examples of what is wrong, who is doing things badly, how difficult the environment is (being aware of it), but to think about what can be done differently, what lessons it teaches us, what new ideas could be developed on it, what possible solutions are like. Engaging a group (team) in such a discussion additionally galvanises the so-called social intelligence. A collection of various experiences and other ways of spurring on creativity will allow you to come up with solutions that would never have occurred if the problem had not emerged.
Adopting a solution-oriented approach requires you to come to terms with uncertainty and ambiguity. This also means (which is not easy) letting go of the inner perfectionist who strives for perfection and wants to avoid mistakes and failures.
Set priorities. Keep focused
What is “urgent” is the enemy of what is “important”. You are obviously familiar with this statement. In practice, however, there is one exercise that helps you prioritize your actions and verify what your teams are to do. Ask yourself, “How does what I do (want to do) bring me closer to the envisaged outcome stemming from the strategy?” Assuming that while creating a strategy, an exciting and ambitious vision appeared, the answer to this question will help you remove what is irrelevant from the list and focus on what is important.
There will always appear new problems and opportunities absorbing your attention. There will be a FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) effect, about which I write in an e-book devoted to business development planning. I suggest there how to do it effectively (download here). So, if you want to be a true leader with strategic thinking, you have to choose such projects that contribute to the company’s main goals and focus exclusively on them.
Note: During the journey described above, you will encounter many dilemmas of refusal. It is the art of saying assertive “NO” and, at the same time, saying “YES” to things which are important to you and the company.
Ask yourself greater and better questions
Strategists question their own assumptions and look at problems from many different perspectives before deciding to choose the best course of action. Most often, strategists confront their thinking in a circle of people known to them, ones whom they know to be capable of arriving at a different point of view. Team thinking is less frequently used. It is a shame, as it is a method involving the company in prospective thinking, and thus employees are more willing to engage in the implementation of the developed decision.
I also want to suggest a simple, but comprehensive method which is worth going through when you face a challenge. It is the method of the so-called six thinking hats. It was created by Dr Edward de Bono, a Maltese physician, psychologist and philosopher. He used it in his consulting work for government agencies, but he wanted the teaching of thinking to be introduced as a subject in schools. Since 1985, the book with the same title as the name of the method has been reprinted multiple times.
- White hat: gathering information. In this hat, you focus on what you can learn from the available data, as well as current and past trends.
- Red hat: feelings and instincts. You look at problems through the prism of feelings (yours and those of others), using intuition and emotions.
- Green hat: creative thinking. It employs creativity and encourages free, unconventional ideas.
- Yellow hat: benefits and values. It helps you look on the bright side. What is the most optimistic point of view?
- Black hat: risk assessment. In this hat, you search for weaknesses therein and think about how to create contingency plans to counteract them.
- Blue hat: organisation and planning. It encourages you to organize and structure ideas.
FINALLY, IT IS WORTH REMEMBERING
Strategic thinking can be learned, and such a culture can be implemented in the company. However, it is worth remembering that these are teams in which tests must be accepted, and one must accept the risk of potentially emerging failures By developing a process of learning from downfalls and coming out of them stronger, you may, after all, focus on your strengths which will respond well to your customers’ needs. You will create a company that will not succumb to any market “whirlwind”. Determination to overcome failures and rise up stronger after them is a feature of leaders building successful organisations. Remember that everyone is creative, but since we are diverse, we need a different environment to activate our right hemisphere. Also remember that if something does not work, the easiest way is to involve the team in finding a solution.
Not sure how to do it? Are you afraid you will dominate the meeting with your attitude? Remember that there are advisors who, by working with many organisations and by having the necessary distance to your company and yourself, can help you implement a culture of strategic thinking and stimulate teams to interact, while working with you as an entrepreneur (boss) on attitude and delegating things that would be worth assigning to others.
 The Strategic Thinking Manifesto By Rich Horwath, https://www.strategyskills.com/pdf/The-Strategic-Thinking-Manifesto.pdf?gclid=CIaV2fG0v88CFcVlfgodSBUM8A.