Fostering Strategically-Thinking Employees
No matter the size of your company, every one of your employees should be thinking strategically as they go about their job. Strategic thinking is not the sole province of “higher-ups” – that approach wastes brainpower and sets you up for mediocre decision-making and missed opportunities. What business can afford that these days?
A 2013 Management Research Group study revealed that 97% of senior execs claim strategic thinking is the #1 leadership skill needed to drive organizational success. Nonetheless, many firms do not actively promote long-term planning or the process of considering system-wide ramifications before making decisions. These are learned skills. And that means you can take proactive steps to teach your people to become strategic thinkers.
Start with information.
Big-picture thinking is not possible unless you know what the big picture is supposed to look like. Companies that keep employees apprised of their vision and mission, goals and day-to-day progress are fueling the process of strategic thinking. People also need information about market and industry trends, your competitors and your customers. They need to know what’s going on in other departments. It takes all this to think broadly and systemically.
Putting out fires is the daily norm in many businesses. But strategic thinking requires lifting your eyes above the minutiae, no matter how important those details are. Encourage employees to contemplate long-term solutions that will prevent today’s problems from recurring. In the same vein, teach them to ask three questions when evaluating possible decisions:
- Does this help achieve our company goals?
- How will it impact company-wide operations and/or stakeholders?
Set aside time to think.
Yes, everyone is busy. But strategic thinking is an investment in your company’s future. Make it part of your culture by encouraging managers to “assign” time for individuals and groups to think things through, whether they’re working to resolve a current problem or considering long-term strategic planning issues.
Teach employees to look at problems in a series of timeframes by starting with the end – if a goal is several years away, what must be done in the near term, in a few months, in a year or three years to achieve that goal? Share these thoughts with others throughout the company, not only to keep everyone informed but to spark additional ideas.
Supply mentors for everyone.
Mentoring is now considered a smart move for new hires, but everyone needs help improving their strategic thinking and other leadership skills. Team existing staff with co-workers and managers with executive mentors, to facilitate training and development throughout your company. Mentors help keep one another accountable, too.
In addition to the 2013 survey quoted above, the Management Research Group conducted another study, one that looked at perceptions of leadership and employee effectiveness among 60,000 managers and executives worldwide. The study revealed that, among behaviors that were perceived as “effective,” leadership was ranked:
- 10 times more important than any other behavior
- Twice as important as communication
- 50 times more important than hands-on operational actions
Among survey respondents, individuals with the ability to think systemically and envision both near- and long-term ramifications for decision-making were considered:
- 6 times more likely to be an effective leader
- 4 times more likely to have “significant future potential”
Strategizing by its very nature takes time. Learning to think broadly and proactively takes practice. By implementing the techniques described here you can overtly foster and reward strategic thinking throughout your organization. Your people will be more innovative and comprehensive in their approach to decision-making. And you will create an environment that fosters leadership at every level.