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Strategic Thinking: Is It A Priority?

If you are a business owner or manager, you know you should be thinking strategically to keep your business on the right track. It can be difficult to find the time to devote to strategic thinking when you are busy dealing with upset customers, late shipments, personnel issues and a myriad of other day-to-day problems. But it is essential to move beyond this reactionary mindset and devote time on a regular basis to strategic analysis for the health of your company.

Strategic-thinkingAn article by Ethan Hale for Fast Company lays out three ideas that may help you find the time for strategic thinking:

  1. Prioritize your planning time as if it were a client. Schedule time each week (30 minutes, an hour, whatever you think is necessary) for strategic planning and treat it like a client engagement.
  2. Find an accountability partner. This could be a fellow business owner, friend or family member. Tell the individual that you recognize the need for strategic planning, and ask them to check in on you each week to make sure that you’re spending the necessary time.
  3. End each strategic session with an action list. Identify 1-3 action items that will help you accomplish your big-picture objectives. Include a timeline and identify which employees are responsible for each element.

What are some specific areas to focus on while you are doing your strategic thinking? Try these ideas, courtesy of a column by Paul J. H. Schoemaker for Inc magazine:

  • Anticipate. Most companies focus on what’s directly ahead. To anticipate well, you must:
    • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
    • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
    • Build wide networks to help you scan the horizon
  • Think Critically. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
    • Reframe problems to get to the root causes
    • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
    • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
  • Interpret. A good strategic leader holds steady in the face of ambiguity, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
    • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
    • Encourage others to do the same
    • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
  • Decide. Don't fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You must develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:
    • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
    • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility - let go of perfection
    • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views
  • Align. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.  To pull that off, you need to:
    • Understand what drives other people's agendas, including what remains hidden
    • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it's uncomfortable
    • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support
  • Learn. Success and failure - especially failure - are valuable sources of organizational learning.  Here's what you need to do:
    • Encourage honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
    • Shift course quickly if you realize you're off track
    • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight

It’s easy to overlook the importance of strategic thinking. But if you want your business to thrive, it’s vital that you spend time planning on a regular basis. You can’t afford not to!

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