How do we build business organizations that last when faced with volatility and chaos? Being in leadership in these environments reminds me of the plate-spinning juggling acts of yore: look away for a glance sends plates crashing to the floor. (Note: if this metaphor makes no sense to you, google “Ed Sullivan plate spinning”)
BUILDING STRATEGIC THINKING MUSCLES
By Dr. Alice Waagen
I’ve written before about the lost art of strategic thinking. In my observations, one critical contributor to the short life of corporations today is the lack of looking long and wide in creating strategy. Faced with a tug of war between focus on short-term metrics or looking out to the future, I see many leaders mired in quarterly numbers at the expense of pondering future threats and opportunities. Strategic thinking utilizes a different mindset and skill set. Left unused, our abilities to think strategically atrophy. We become conditioned to the rhythm of immediate crises and blind to approaching trends.
Since much of the workday is centered on short-term decisions and events, how can a leader grow strategic thinking strength? Let me suggest some tactics that I’ve used when coaching leaders to think strategically:
- Following the mantra “What gets measured, gets done”, build regular time into standard meeting agendas for strategic thinking. At the meeting end, ask these questions:
- How does what we’ve been discussing advance our long-term strategy?
- What would change in (external markets, stock market, competitor landscape, and so on) affect what we’ve been discussing?
- What is the desired outcome of our actions one year out?
- These questions will shift thinking from short- to long-term for not only yourself but for your leadership team assembled in the room.
- At a minimum, book at least one hour per quarter to analyze trends, research forecasts, and discuss the implications of future trends on your business.
- Use strategic thinking tools to open your mind to forward thinking, such as the Opportunities and Threats part of a SWOT analysis and other tools such as scenario planning and Generative Thinking.
- Form a strategic thinking network group with business leaders outside of your organization. Hearing others analyze trends as they pertain to their industry and profession will open you up to a broader outlook on your environment.
Make these activities a regular part of your day by day leadership life. Open these discussions to all levels of your organization, not just the executive suite. Don’t let your strategic thinking muscles atrophy from misuse. Disruptive changes can’t disrupt a business that anticipates their coming and prepares to leverage the change for growth and sustainability.