Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
Firstly, here is my definition of strategic thinking: It is the discipline of noticing and responding to potential game-changers in order to have the advantage even in an uncertain and chaotic business environment. Find out more in this previous article.
It has three components:
- Spotting gamechangers – either opportunities to change the game or threats to your business because the game is changing with or without you;
- Designing a response that creates strategic advantage;
- Selling that response to key stakeholders as the gateway to implementation
Secondly, what is meant by culture? Again, I have a simple definition which I like: culture is the way we do things around here.
So is it possible to create an organisation where strategic thinking is just something that happens around here? And if so, how does one do it?
What You Say is all Important
Culture has everything to do with what leaders in the organisation do and talk about. Every conversation a leader has with people at various levels in the business is an opportunity to be a catalyst for strategic thinking. I think it starts with your vision.
Does everyone in the organisation know what the vision is? Do you talk about it at EVERY opportunity? Do you overtly weigh every decision up against its impact on the vision? Does every other manager do the same? After all, a vision is not just a poster on the wall! It is a clear statement of where you are going. You build your vision into the culture by talking about it at every opportunity. You link every triumph and every setback to your vision. You make a link between every new initiative and the vision. You give people feedback on their contributions in relation to the vision. Everything everyone does or does not do leads you towards or away from the vision – make sure that comes across loud and clear.
Make Your Expectations Clear and Ask Strategic Questions
Does everyone know that they have a contribution to make to the achievement of the vision? Do they know that EVERYONE is expected to think strategically? You can make this happen with the questions you ask. Here are some examples of strategic questions:
- What implications do you think that will have for our business?
- Does that pose an opportunity for us or a threat? How do you believe we should respond?
- What do you think we should stop doing? What should we be doing instead?
- How will that move us towards our vision?
- How is that likely to look in 5 years’ time? What do we need to do now in order to be prepared?
- How could we replicate what you are doing here to other parts of the business?
- How could we take that and apply it here?
- What would happen if we just stopped doing that?
Have Rituals That Encourage Strategic Thinking
Do you have periodic “rituals” that encourage everyone to contribute to the strategic thinking in the business? These would be rituals that encourage bottom up sharing of ideas. These might include:
- Periodic focus groups that look at specific aspects of the business or how you do business;
- Regular board, divisional and department meetings that only consider the business in relation to the future;
- Town Hall meetings that encourage exploration of or presentation of strategic ideas;
- Regular strategic reviews – you could use these questions:
- What have we been trying to achieve?
- What have we actually done?
- What has/is working?
- What hasn’t worked/isn’t working?
- What lessons have we learned?
- What do we need to do now?
Recognition and Reward
Finally, make sure that you reward behaviour that contributes to the achievement of the vision. All achievements against KPIs should show the contribution these make to the achievement of the vision. Individuals, teams and divisions that make a direct contribution towards the realisation of the vision should get recognition and maybe even tangible rewards. I personally don’t believe it is about the tangible rewards in the form of bonuses. I think it is very much about the public recognition people get for their contributions. A more powerful reward than a bonus is probably the prestige of being able to participate in really interesting projects – so think about how your best thinkers can be included there.
If every manager in the business is behaving as I have described here, before long you will find that thinking strategically is quite simply how we do things around here.
If you recognise that you need to start developing your strategic thinking skills and disciplines, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss your coaching programme.