Businesses and organizations that foster strategic thinking always outperform their competition, and the reason is quite simple – they innovate more. You cannot innovate if you’re only focused on day-to-day tasks and short-term goals.
Innovation requires creativity and long-term thinking; therefore, if you encourage strategic thinking and involve everyone in the process, you are consequently encouraging your employees to think outside of their immediate area of expertise. This is how innovation starts, and how significant improvements are made.
Strategic Thinking (What It Is, And What It’s Not)
With strategic thinking your primary objective is to encourage innovation, new ideas, new processes, and in general, new thinking. Simply put, you are trying to create an environment where everyone in the organization is thinking about more than their immediate task/need.
Also, don’t confuse strategic thinking with strategic planning. They may sound similar, but they are different. With strategic planning, your goal is to take an idea or high-level strategy and plan how you will implement it into your organization, with all the necessary steps.
Encouraging and fostering strategic thinking is not as difficult as you may think. Here are 5 simple rules for implementing strategic thinking in your organization.
Rule #1: Involve Everyone (“Strategic Thinking” Is A Team Sport)
Many business leaders think their employees expect them to have all the answers; therefore, they fall into the trap of making all the big decisions alone. However, this is counterproductive to effective strategic thinking and innovation because you cannot be an expert in all facets of the business.
While preparing a strategy by yourself and unveiling it to everyone will do wonders for your ego, it will do little to gain business-wide support. What you should do instead is introduce new ideas, processes, and strategies in their infancy – encouraging early collaboration. This is extremely important in ensuring buy-in from your management and employees.
Rule #2: Allow Time For Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking has to be prioritized because if it is not, you will always find something else to do that is more urgent or important. Telling your employees or management that you encourage strategic thinking is pointless if 100% of their time is occupied by immediate/urgent tasks.
Allocating a few hours a week to strategic thinking is a good start. For example, you can assign 4 hours a week to problem-solving, long-term goals, brainstorming, what-if analysis, industry trends, and so on. More important than the structure of those hours is the fact you are allowing time to step back, observe, reflect, and question assumptions (e.g. Why are we doing it this way?)
Rule #3: Reward Thinking
Most of us are quick to praise employee contributions that have a direct impact on the bottom line or customer satisfaction, but we often neglect other types of contributions. For example, if your Performance Reviews, KPIs (key performance indicators) or OKRs (objectives and key results) are all driven by the bottom line then your organization is only driven by the bottom line; hence you are not serious about fostering strategic thinking and innovation. However, if you incorporate strategic thinking into performance reviews, KPIs or OKRs then you are sending a clear message to everyone that you are serious about strategic thinking being a critical component to your organization’s future.
Rule #4: Seek External Advice/Feedback
It’s always a good idea to seek external advice and feedback whenever discussing ideas which may drastically alter the way yo do business because a new perspective often reveals blindspots.
Significant blind spots are often overlooked if all your strategic thinking is done internally. Why does this happen? Because when you know your business and industry well, you naturally focus on the details, hence why you may overlook obvious blind spots.
To minimize this risk, talk with your peers, partners (e.g. vendors), advisors, and consultants you trust. The more people you talk with, the more blind spots you will reveal, hence why fostering dialogue and seeking different voices and perspectives is critical.
Rule #5: Have Realistic Expectations
If you are implementing strategic thinking into your organization to revolutionize your industry, then you will most likely fail. Strategic thinking has to be engraved in your organization’s culture, and that will take years if not decades. That being said, an organization that implements strategic thinking will see immediate results, but they are usually classified as evolutionary and not revolutionary.
Many business leaders like the idea of incorporating strategic thinking into their organization because it fosters innovation. However, they are not sure how to approach the subject and more importantly implement it. As you’ve seen in this post, implementing strategic thinking is not rocket science, but it does require some organization-wide changes. This is a small price to pay for an initiative that can transform your business from “me-too” (you are the same as your competition) to an industry innovator (leading your industry).
Related: Why is strategic planning important?