Tips For Thinking Strategically

Tips For Thinking Strategically

Strategic Planning Pro Tips for Business Professionals / Leading Resources, Inc.

Thinking strategically begins with being deeply curious about what the future will bring. One of the best ways to exercise curiosity is to look at the trends affecting your industry. The STEEP framework is a handy way to cover all the bases as you look for relevant trends:

  • Social trends: Changes in demographics, lifestyles, social and cultural values, and consumer behavior;
  • Technological trends: Changes in technology in such areas as health care, energy, transportation, and communication;
  • Economic trends: Changes in tax policy, interest rates, trade, financial markets, overall boom/bust cycle, and the availability of jobs;
  • Environmental trends: Environmental changes that affect the quality of life, affect policy;
  • Political trends: Changes in law, regulation, and policy.

    As you look at trends, take the time to engage your brain (and those of your colleagues) around a series of questions:

    • How do we think these trends will affect our organization?
    • What potential scenarios could unfold?
    • What would be the best scenario from our perspective? What would be the worst?
    • How could we mitigate the risk of the worst scenario occurring? How could we help make sure the better scenario occurs?
    • What data should we be tracking from this point to stay informed about the relevant trends – and how they are impacting us?

      Another tip is to engage your group in various thought experiments to stretch your imaginations. For example: 

      • If an outsider were to come in and run our organization, what would s/he do? Why?
      • If the organization could speak, what would it say it needs us to do? Why?

        Thinking strategically isn’t enough. You also have to translate your thinking into strategic decisions. Here is a list of strategic decisions an organization typically has to make: 

        • What are the long-term results we want to achieve? Why?
        • What capacities and expertise do we need to grow?
        • What resources do we need to do that?
        • Given these priorities, what do we need to do more of, less of, start or stop doing?
        • How will we measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable?

          Finally, you can think more strategically and innovatively if you take honest stock of the trends your organization is facing and your ability to influence them. Here are five possible environments: 

          1. Classical: we can predict it, but we can’t change it.
          2. Adaptive: we can’t predict it, and we can’t change it.
          3. Visionary: we can predict it, and we can change it.
          4. Shaping: we can’t predict it, but we can change it.
          5. Renewal: The environment is changing radically, and we need a reset

          The “strategy palette” diagram below shows the relationship of these different environments.

          One of the most important ways to think strategically and innovatively is to identify – and challenge – the assumptions that are at the core of the organization’s conception of itself. Some assumptions may no longer be valid – or may at least merit revisiting. For example, what are your assumptions about your customers – who they are, their needs, and how to meet those needs? What is the relative importance and weight you’ve given to your different service areas, products, or business domains? How do those assumptions need to change?

          Organizations often have lines of service or products that operate relatively independently. Thinking about new ways to efficiently connect or combine these different products/services to benefit your customers is another way to think strategically. Apple is the classic example that built various technology products and then blended them into integrated services and product suites.

          Bottom line, to think strategically you have to be genuinely curious about the future of your industry and the environment that shapes it. You have to ask yourselves tough questions and complicate your thinking. And you need to be prepared to hear things that challenge long-held assumptions.

          Want to learn more?

          If you’re looking to learn more about leading effectively and if you’re ready to take your organization to the next level in other ways, contact us to speak with a consultant.

          Eric Douglas

          Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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