In a recent Forbes article, Joseph Folkman describes strategic thinking this way:
‘Strategic thinking involves thinking about larger, macro issues, in contrast to the microfocus that many tend to take. Strategic thinking means seeing how the industry and the broader economy function. It also includes thinking long-term in contrast to near-term.’
The ability to think strategically is a key attribute of an effective leader. However, many people assume that strategic thinking is the exclusive domain of C-suiters or other senior level positions. As organizations grow, leaders can fall into familiar patterns and become distant from the details of the business and the emerging trends affecting it – behaviours that could affect their ability to create effective strategies.
Bill Gates, Former CEO and Chairman of Microsoft Corp. created ‘the world’s coolest suggestion box’ to counter this. Through a technique called “Think Week”, he encouraged strategic thinking and urged employees to share their ideas.
While leading Microsoft, Gates would go on a secluded retreat twice a year and during that time, he would immerse himself in reading and thinking about technology trends affecting Microsoft’s business. Because his “Think Week” reading material included innovation and investment ideas from Microsoft employees all over the world, this practice allowed Gates to garner strategic insights from developments employees were seeing in the marketplace. This strategic thinking culture has helped the tech-giant stay ahead of the curve and inspired many of its innovations. Today, Microsoft is the largest software company in the world and has officially entered the most elite of clubs: corporations with a market value exceeding $2 trillion.
In today’s digitally connected world, strategic thinking remains crucial to the success of any business and refusing to think strategically means leaving vital information on the table.
Here are 5 tips on how you can build a strategic thinking culture in your organization:
Lay Down a Concrete Vision and Mission Statement
The first step to building a strategic thinking organization is to create a well-defined strategic plan, which includes the organization’s vision, mission and core values. This helps to provide clear direction and focus for the entire organization. Once defined, the plan needs to be executed throughout the organization by linking to tactical actions and timelines. Operational actions of an organization become more efficient when employees know what is expected of them and how they can align their day-to-day activities to meet larger organizational goals.
Create a Culture of Recognition
Studies have shown that employees who are appreciated show greater job satisfaction and drive to improve, compared to those who only receive monetary appraisals. One way to promote strategic thinking is to show appreciation for managers and employees who display the behavior. Through recognition, strategic thinking behaviour can be positively reinforced, which helps to increase the likeliness of reoccurrence.
Encourage Proactive Problem-solving
Assegid Habtewold wrote in his book, ‘The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks: For Continued Success in Leadership’, “Rather than micro-managing to resolve every problem, create the right atmosphere, process, and system that facilitate effective problem solving.” In essence, strategic thinking must become a way of life for your organization. If activities that require strategic thinking are a regular part of an employees’ day, over time, it will become a positive habit.
Make Collaboration a Priority
In a lot of organizations, it is usually the leadership team who are privy to issues facing the organization. This reduces the set of ideas available to draw upon. Building a collaborative culture means creating a strong sense of community, relatively low barriers to participation and putting in place informal mentorship structures and support for creating and sharing one’s ideas. When employees have access to information relating to the organization’s goals, results and challenges, they will be better placed to offer relevant solutions.
Get Serious about Mentorship
Mentoring is one of the most effective initiatives organizations can implement to keep their employees engaged, productive and motivated.
Deloitte, the giant accounting firm, has institutionalized mentoring in a way that ensures the leadership pipeline is bursting at the seams. Each program participant is assigned a partner, principal or director sponsor who commits to at least two years to help proteges drive their own careers by helping them understand how to navigate the organization. By connecting your managers with mentors who have a highly strategic way of thinking, your organization will be able to foster and develop managers who think strategically. The managers in turn will be able to mentor juniors within the organization.
Engaging in strategic thinking does not guarantee the perfect strategy or plan. It will, however, provide prime insights into potential courses of action necessary to maintain the competitive edge necessary in today’s dynamic and uncertain world.