strengthen your strategic thinking muscle

Have you recently moved from an operational position into a strategic one? Often we move from doer to visionary without warming up our strategic thinking muscles. Would you run a marathon without training first? Attempting strategic thinking without training your strategic muscle is just as frustrating and painful. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Widen Your Perspective

Strategic thinking is a more integrated perspective of your business or organization than an operational perspective.  It includes not only awareness and appreciation of the entire value creation process, but our individual roles within that process.

ACTION: Increase your end-to-end awareness of your business. Get to know each step in the high-level value creation process. Meet with each functional head in your organization and learn their inputs, processes, and outputs. Gain an appreciation for the competencies needed every role. With each meeting, note the importance of each piece of the puzzle and how they fit together to create the entire system. Consider not only the process, but also the obstacles these leaders face in attaining their goals. Make sure your end-to-end scope includes suppliers and customers – to miss these two key stakeholders would be like not drinking water during your marathon.

Clarify Your Vision

In strategic leadership positions, your operations team looks to you for focused attention, inspiration, and resistance to distraction. You are the unmovable force that will lead them to success! You must clearly define the business vision and the path. Remind your team how their work fits into the vision, and how it directly relates to achieving the end goal.

ACTION: If you struggle with seeing into the future, consider working your way up to the long term. Just as you would gradually increase the weight you lift in strength training, gradually increase your vision by one-step at a time. Identify the business vision, not as a matter of years (i.e. 5 yrs from now), but rather by answering: ‘what’s the next step for our business.’ To help communicate the link between the vision and the day-to-day operations, involve team members from all levels right from the beginning of the strategic planning process. If they help to develop the plan, they will be able to see the connection from the future back to today’s goal.

Think in time

In ‘how to time travel’ I discussed the benefits and pitfalls of living in each perspective: past, present, and future, in our thoughts. The strategic leader must balance living in all these time perspectives – all at one time. Recognize that the future alone will not drive success. Though she is unmovable toward her intent, the strategic leader is also flexible in her path. She establishes benchmarks along the route as a guide and opportunity to revise the plan as needed.

ACTION: build your thinking in time muscle by practicing scenario planning. Practice the ‘What if’ scenario exercise from end-to-end. Invite members from all areas of the organization to the discussion. Identify the benchmarks for various decision points along the path from current state to desired / future vision state.

Strategic thinking requires using both left and right sides of the brain. Consider reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind
to expand your awareness. There are an abundance of great exercises within the book to take you to the next level in strengthening your strategic thinking muscle.

CHALLENGE: Select one of the above activities to strengthen your strategic muscle. Engage the help of a guide, mentor, or coach to ensure you are stretching beyond your comfort zone. Do it now, take action!