Understanding and Embracing Strategic Thinking

by Granville Triumph

In a recent global survey of 60,000 managers and executives in more than 140 countries, Management Research Group found that strategic thinking is considered the most important leadership skill by a wide margin. 97 percent of respondents said strategic thinking is most critical to effective leadership, far more important than communication, innovation, persuasion and other leadership traits.

Unfortunately, many executives confuse strategic thinking with strategic planning. Strategic planning typically occurs once per year when budgets are being set. The goal of strategic planning is to create a roadmap for achieving specific goals while establishing priorities, timelines, measurement metrics and resource allocation.

What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking is an ongoing process of identifying and cultivating new ideas and opportunities through collaboration. By challenging the status quo and having the foresight to spot and predict new trends, strategic thinkers create value through innovation for both the organization and its customers.

In today’s ultra-competitive global marketplace, strategic thinking has never been more important. In fact, strategic thinking is a prerequisite for effective strategic planning. By leaving your comfort zone to find growth opportunities and clearly articulating why these opportunities are valuable, organizations can make more confident decisions, reduce risk and outmaneuver the competition.

How do you get employees to think strategically?

Most organizations react to the market instead of leading the market. Too many businesses fail because they let others control their future. Strategic thinking, by definition, is a proactive, ongoing approach as opposed to a once-per-year exercise. If you try to turn it on and off during certain meetings, strategic thinking won’t work.

To inspire and encourage strategic thinking and make it part of your company culture:

  • Emphasize the importance of strategic thinking to your staff, and do it in writing.
  • Include strategic thinking as an essential component of your core values and mission.
  • Dedicate time during meetings to the discussion of strategic issues.
  • Ask questions in a way that promotes open discussion and collaboration rather than steering the conversation in a certain direction.
  • Create an inclusive environment that welcomes new ideas from anyone instead of limiting input to a select few.

Your competitors can easily mimic products, services, pricing models and business processes. Strategic thinking, however, is a process that is virtually impossible to duplicate. Only by embracing strategic thinking at all levels of your organization can you develop innovative solutions that lead to long-term customer loyalty and business growth.

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