In today’s ever-changing, fast moving digital world, it’s easy to bypass strategic thinking in business. We often feel behind before our day even starts given 2.4 million emails are sent every second. Or we arrive at work only to discover we’ve been scheduled in back-to-back meetings derailing what we planned to accomplish. For most of us, we’ve become more tactical and reactionary in our day-to-day efforts than we’d like to be. So, the question remains, how do you think strategically and maintain your ability to be proactive in today’s digital world?
We have a 4-step game plan.
1. Spend Time Being Strategic on a Regular Basis
Strategic thinking is based on high-level analysis, thought and planning. But remember, the context of what you are pondering doesn’t always need to be long-range or groundbreaking. Strategy also applies to smaller scale projects and even day-to-day tasks. Whether you are working within your discipline or considering the greater good of the business, almost every product, service or organizational process benefits from your best systematic and deliberate thinking. To follow are a few prompts ranging from big picture problem solving to more routine issues:
- Consider customers you recently won, and try to figure out why
- Create a new business development plan, addressing future trends or business shifts
- Contemplate a better system for production and fulfillment
- Review a customer loyalty program
- Collect observations from employees about what business systems are antiquated and inefficient
- Evaluate the weakness in your marketing asset library
True strategic thinking requires that you stop “doing” your business and instead “think” about your business. By carving out “thinking” time as an individual, you are prioritizing mental exercise and making it routine, just as you likely schedule daily physical exercise. Consider putting fifteen to thirty minutes on your calendar each day or a half day every few weeks. The important point is to spend time being strategic on a regular basis.
Every strategy should focus on solving a problem or creating an opportunity, otherwise the strategy isn’t really strategic. Often a beneficial next step is to hold a brainstorm meeting with your team or look outside your particular silo or sector by assembling a cross-functional team for additional insights. Ask for thoughts on how to best resolve the problem, allowing the team to “think outside” the conventional box but always keeping the customer first and foremost. Ensure any solution or opportunity is grounded in a customer-centric strategy that works best from outside the organization in, rather than to take the ineffective route of addressing the problem or solution from inside the organization out.
By brainstorming, you are nurturing personnel, showing them the importance of taking a time out, having an open mind and thinking—encouraging them to behave and model the core value you wish to instill. It requires an intentional effort to make these sessions a collaborative exercise, in an environment where no suggestion is off limits and dreaming big is supported. Important considerations to guide a productive session to identify risks as well as rewards include:
A contingency plan anticipating “if/then” scenarios as well as “what if” possibilities
3. Develop A Strategic Course of Action
Every plan should result in a strategic list of actions mapping out what needs to happen in a chronological, methodical manner. It’s advantageous to divide the action items into bigger, long-term pieces, and then fill in the smaller, sequential tasks. A clear road map allows personnel at any level to align, regardless of their individual strategic abilities. At first these are action items are likely to be broad and as implementation gets closer, the items become very specific and detailed. At every stage and step of the action list, continue to ask “when” and “why” in order to streamline the course of action. We find it essential to walk away from the action list—inevitably you will come back after a break and improve upon the plan because your mind will again be open to problems or opportunities you overlooked in the first pass. The final step will be to incorporate a timeline complete with responsible person(s) and budgetary costs, and then monitor all aspects of the plan as it is implemented.
4. Stay the Course, Learn and Navigate
The best advice when implementing a strategic plan is to stay the course. In other words, be tenacious in enacting a strategic plan. However, you must balance this persistence with the ability to be open minded and pivot. Continue to be vigilant in your inquiries and monitoring of how things are going. You will likely find it beneficial to conduct learning audits or after-action reviews, discussing or documenting milestones, results and insights. A true strategic thinker is open to constructive learning from successes and failure. By doing so you will be able to navigate and react strategically—adjusting the course so direction is clear and the evolving strategy continues to be purposeful.
The result is not only healthy, forward thinking individuals but also an exceptional business with vision and mission.