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Develop Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization

| September 9, 2014

by Jim Bruce

The Tuesday Reading today is “Develop Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization” by Robert Kabacoff, Vice President of Research at the Management Research Group.  The essay appeared in the HBR Blog earlier this year.

Kabacoff begins his essay by noting that multiple studies have shown that “strategic thinkers are found to be among the most highly effective leaders.”  He also notes that while most leaders focus on strategy only once or twice a year, “a true strategic leader thinks and acts strategically every day.”

A 2013 Management Research Group studyof 60,000 managers and executives found that “a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied.”  (These behaviors included innovation, persuasion, communications, results orientation, credibility, people skills, etc.)  As a specific eample, a strategic approach to leadership was twice as effective as communication, the behavior found to be the second most important.  In his essay, Kabacoff notes that:

“Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning.  That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there.  It also means thinking systemically.  That is, identifying the impact of their decisions on various segments of the organization.”

Leaders who scored well on these skills – objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning – were six times more likely to be seen as effective as the leaders who were low on them, independent of any of their other behaviors.

Developing strategic leaders is not easy for a number of reasons, and perhaps primarily because it is not just a set of skills, that is techniques, but, rather, it is also a mindset, a way of thinking.  Kabacoff suggests seven ways to improve your strategic thinking: 

1.  Set aside a regular time for strategic planning;  make it a regular part of your job.  Perhaps, it becomes a regular element in the time you set aside each week for planning – 

•               Your objectives – what are you trying to accomplish?

•               Your plans – in sume detail, what do you need to do to get from here to there?

•               Implications – how will your actions affect others?

•               Anticipate the future – what challenges and opportunities may show up?

•               Resources – do you have the people/funding/training to accomplish your goals?  If not, can you get them?

•               Analysis – what are the pros and cons of your proposed course of action against your ultimate goal?

2.  Provide information to your staff on the internal and external environments you operate within.  Think about doing regular environmental scans perhaps every six months.  Keep this in front of you so that you continually think beyond the day – that is, to-day.

3.  Keep people around you informed on what is happening across your organization.

4.  Connect each of your leadership team with a mentor.  “The ideal leader is someone who is widely known for his/her ability to keep people focused on strategic objectives and the impact of their actions.”

5.  Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, mission, and goal statement throughout the organization.  This enables individuals and work groups to stay focused and incorporate the broader strategies into their own goals.

6.  Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting, whenever possible.  Ideally, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management.

7.  Promote a future perspective;  teach people what strategic thinking is and encourage them to ask “why” and “when” questions.

Kabacoff closes his essay by writing:  “Developing a strategic approach is not easy, but the result often makes the difference between an average and an exceptional leader.”

Take up the challenge.  Make increasing your strategic thinking skills a regular part of your schedule and activities beginning  this week.

.  .  .  .    jim