Do you think strategically? Can you? Do you know how?
Recently, I’ve been asked by several clients to help them and their managers think strategically. Given the challenging economic climate, the tight labor market, and the need for enhanced seamless remote and in-person service delivery capabilities, a manager’s ability to be flexible, efficient, and to think strategically are at an all time high.
Given the challenging times, the need for strategic thinking skills is at an all time high.
But why is thinking strategically such an underdeveloped skill for many managers? Why are so many managers confused as to what thinking strategically actually is? From my perspective, this confusion is compounded because there are two types of strategic thinking. Most leaders aren’t aware of this and don’t differentiate or clarify for their managers to which type of strategic thinking they’re referring. They just tell their managers or team members to “think strategically”.
The first type of strategic thinking is what I call the ‘technical’ strategic thinking skills. Wikipedia.org defines this type as: Strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value for your organization. I don’t know about you, but that makes no sense to me (and I work with clients to develop their strategic plans). The way I describe strategic thinking is simply this: Managers focus on the here and now. What do they need to produce (through their teams) today, this week, this month, this quarter, this year? What do they have to get done given the resources they have and the commitments they have to meet? Leaders, on the other hand think: In addition to what we need to produce (those are givens), what is coming next and how do I need to prepare my team for “it” so when “it” hits, we’re prepared and can act appropriately? This is where strategic planning comes into play.
Leaders think: In addition to what we need to produce, what is coming next and how do I need to prepare my team for “it” so when “it” hits, we’re prepared and can act appropriately.
This type of thinking is looking into the future to identify what MAY unfold, what MAY present itself as an opportunity, or what needs to get done – by a team, department, or organization – to enable aligned or more successful operations in the future. This is where strategic planning comes into play to lay out, technically, a step-by-step plan to make the nebulous clear and enable aligned actions by others. This requires an ability to define a desired outcome, the implications and interactions of others, and a clear but comprehensive plan to enable everyone to work together. The plan development requires some technical savvy to create one that is comprehensive yet concise. Forward-thinking yet clear, and organizationally focused while speaking to each individual team member. These types of plans help leaders create focus, organizational alignment and momentum. This type of strategic thinking requires a technical understanding of how to create, communicate, implement, and use a strategic plan to drive and support management and team actions.
The second type of strategic thinking is what I call “situational”. This type of strategic thinking is what you and I do every day, often without realizing it. So if you’ve ever been told you don’t think strategically, or you don’t think you can, let me ask you:
- Have you ever yelled at a sports team or coach because you knew better plays they should be making?
- Have you ever told a colleague how to better interact with someone you both know to get a better result?
- Have you ever held off making a purchase or taking action because your gut told you the time wasn’t right?
Even though they may seem simplistic, each of these examples are examples of you thinking strategically given a specific situation. Without realizing it, you ‘read’ the situation, identified a pattern, saw an opportunity, or relied on past experience to guide your future action to achieve a better outcome this time around. This is thinking strategically given the situation at hand. So whether you think strategically to close a sale, persuade a key team member to stay, or mitigate a cross-departmental feud, you’re reading the situation, people, and issues at hand and then taking action accordingly to achieve a better outcome to enable you – and others – to move forward.
In situational strategic thinking, you’re reading the situation, people, and issues at hand and then taking action accordingly to achieve a better outcome to enable you – and others – to move forward.
So the next time someone tells you, “You need to think strategically,” stop and ask yourself: Do I need to be clearer and more vocal in helping to lay out a plan, or are they suggesting I need to get better at reading the room and situation?”
Once you know what they want, you’ll be able to deliver because, yes, you can think strategically.
Copyright MMXXII – Liz Weber, CMC, CSP – Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.com +1.717.597.8890
Liz supports clients with strategic and succession planning, as well as leadership training and executive coaching. Learn more about Liz on LinkedIn!