Organizations want more “strategic thinkers”
Have you ever heard someone described as a strategic thinker, or been advised you need to think more strategically, and wondered what that really means? It’s a challenge to describe strategic thinking to someone who’s not naturally inclined to it. You’ll often hear the phrase “big picture,” which feels a bit fuzzy.
Strategic thinking is actually a whole set of skills as well as a mindset. It includes the ability to think critically, plan ahead, and make informed decisions. By keeping the larger perspective in mind, strategic thinkers are able to promptly flex and adapt when the situation changes, or new information comes to light. And keeping the end goal in mind helps strategic thinkers stay action oriented.
Organizations value strategic thinking because it helps them move toward their goals more quickly and effectively.
Some people are naturally strategic thinkers, but even if it’s not your default approach you can get better at it with attention and practice.
If you want to strengthen your ability to think strategically or demonstrate to your boss that you ARE a strategic thinker, here are a few practical tips.
- Get a good understanding of your organization’s (or your boss’s) goals and objectives. Make sure you can see how your job contributes to those goals and objectives.
- Understand the organization’s (or your boss’s) priorities. There will always be limited resources, like time and money, so zeroing in on what’s MOST important NEXT is a valuable skill in itself.
- When faced with a large complex task, break it down into bite-size, actionable pieces – always keeping the end in mind.
- When faced with a new situation, analyze before making decisions or taking action. Gather information, assess risks and opportunities, and consider factors that may impact the outcome.
- Be aware of the critical balance between importance and urgency. You don’t want to move too quickly when a bit more thinking time would lead to a better outcome. But it’s equally dangerous to get stuck in “analysis paralysis” when quick action is called for. Remember you want to demonstrate that you are action oriented.
- When faced with a new problem or opportunity, instead of going to your boss immediately, give yourself a bit of time (when appropriate) to think it through. Then when you approach your boss, lay out the situation along with your analysis and recommendation.
- Ask for feedback and an opportunity to talk it through, with your boss or someone else who is known as a strategic thinker.
The real test of a strategic thinker happens in the heat of the battle. When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, can you remember that you’re here to drain the swamp?
In other words, when the urgent distractions of the day are taking over, can you keep the goals and priorities in mind?
You may not feel able to stop and think about the “big picture” in the midst of your day, but you can reflect on it all later, giving yourself a better chance to remember the strategy the next time your day turns into a $#@* show (like tomorrow!).
Here are some questions to ask yourself during that reflection process:
- Of all the things I could do in the heat of the moment, what would serve the highest priority?
- What about this situation (or what I do about it) will matter next week? Next year? 10 years from now?
- How will the circumstances and choices of today impact not just me, but my department? Not just my department, but my company? Not just my company, but my industry?
- Rather than “What’s right thing to do in this moment?”, ask yourself “What’s the right thing to do in this moment to reach the goals / have a better future / impact the industry?”