Strategic thinking is a skill-set and approach that everyone in an organisation – not just senior managers – can practice and apply to help how they do their own job and improve the decisions and choices they need to make. Being strategic is not just about business or organisational-level strategy – despite what the mountains of published books on ‘strategy’ might suggest!
So, what can leaders do to foster widespread strategic thinking across their organisation? Here’s a quick list of a dozen measures I would suggest:
i) Communicate and promote your organisation’s vision, mission and longer-term goals strongly across the organisation:- Individuals and departments need to understand the broader organisational strategy in order to have a context for their own, local plans and actions.
ii) Distribute responsibility down and across your organisation:- Senior leaders should push power downward, across the organisation, empowering people at all levels to make decisions. Doing so gives people the opportunity – and increased confidence – to develop their strategic skills and take risks.
iii) Be generous and open in distributing information across the organisation:- One of the major prerequisites of strategic leadership is circulating relevant and broad business information that helps middle and lower-level managers elevate their thinking beyond the day-to-day. So, not only should leaders keep staff informed of what is happening internally but they need also to provide regular news and information on external things like markets, regulations, competitors, and new technologies.
iv) Provide multiple paths and opportunities for staff to raise ideas and suggestions (rather than insisting on individuals first get approval of their idea from their line manager):- for example, a suggestions board on the staff intranet and holding periodic open staff conferences.
v) Provide extensive opportunities for managers to meet each other:- to share/discuss ideas and work together on cross-functional task-groups to look at company-level issues
vi) Encourage managers to plan and allocate regular time slots for reflecting and local strategic thinking sessions with their teams. Allow meetings sometimes away from the office: thinking is helped by having fresh surroundings!
vii) Promote a culture that values strategic thinking:- refer to in staff job descriptions; train people how to think strategically and recognise/reward people for evidence of good thinking (rather than just reacting to events)
viii) Promote a culture that values learning, performance and innovation: – this includes a well-defined and motivational ‘performance management’ system for all staff; generous expenditure on training and coaching across all staff; and ensuring your culture ‘allows’ for people to make mistakes.
ix) Ensure Board meetings included some dedicated time to discuss strategic issues and opportunities: – and invite senior and middle managers to join often to contribute ideas, views and solutions. Use an external executive facilitator to encourage and assist fresh, ‘outside-in’ thinking.
x) Change the jobs of managers every 2-3 years across different departments/functions – to help broaden personal perspectives
xi) Ensure all directors, senior and middle managers meet regularly with customers and people from other key stakeholder groups.
xii) Keep your organisation’s operational systems and processed flexible and agile as much as possible – if not, managers will soon get frustrated and lose interest in thinking of new ideas!
xiii) Connect (high potential) managers with a ‘strategic’ mentor/coach and encourage them to mix with peers in other organisations. Encourage perhaps some to become a trustee or non-exec of a charity.
If you could use some support with any of these – or other – approaches for boosting strategic thinking in your organisation, do get in touch at Owen Morris Partnership. Either phone us at the office on 01886 881092 or message us via the Contact page on this website.