Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Strategic Thinking – but whose job is it anyway?

Thinking strategically, often seen as the accountability of top management, is a skill and a process that are required to grow the organisation both in times of stability and in challenging circumstances.
So, what is strategic thinking and why should there be a cultural acceptance of it being part of everyone’s job and not just the domain of the select few?

Strategic Thinking Capita Learning & Development
Strategic thinking
The Cambridge dictionary defines strategy as:

a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations

What the definition makes transparent is that strategy is just that - a plan; a plan to reach something. As such strategy can be deemed to be “owned” at various levels and responsibility and awareness ought to be organisationally grown.

It is true to say that long term, far reaching organisational aims, the design of culture and the creation of ethos must be “driven” - but not owned -  by senior management who ensure that operational plans and activities will then take over. In this way strategy is cascaded down throughout all levels of staff.

But balanced with that, organisations are increasingly bottom-up type businesses.  People want, and must see that they have, the opportunity to inform organisational objectives and deliver their part of the business to contribute to a successful organisation. Of course it is far too simplistic to think that organisations operate as democracies or co-operatives; they need to be managed with plans that can be immediately linked to the external environment and for organisations to be successful these links, and therefore these plans, must be recognised at all levels.

This knowledge must be implicit not tacit in the organisation – how operational and operational plans and thinking inform and support strategy and strategic thinking.

In enlightened times and in enlightened organisations individuals want (and seek) amongst other things -

  • engagement in the organisation and its successes 
  • fulfilment
  • sense of being valued

Informed senior management want at the very least -

  • People to take responsibility
  • Committed individuals
  • Success through effort
  • To meet (beat) strategic objectives

So what can organisations do to grow the strategic thinking culture and support the above desires? Well it’s back to the ownership of plans at all levels – but plans based on the understanding of how strategy can be informed from the bottom up with a clear line of sight from the individual to the organisation. Steps to achieve this are:

  • Establish a raison d’être  – increase the sense of ownership by having people articulate “what business they are in” (make sure it’s aligned to the organisation’s business and coach out any differences) and design a mission around that understanding
  • Define the destination - have people agree what the strategic intent is of “their business” – how will they help the organisation beat the competition, differentiate, collaborate or survive?
  • “SWOT” the issues – have individuals and teams scan the internal and external environment – what are the requirements for “their business” to succeed? What might get in the way of achieving strategic intent? What resources can be best leveraged and what opportunities are there for growth and improvement?
  • Plan the journey – ensure the individuals and teams undertake the design of the objectives that will achieve the strategic intent and state the actions that will get them there.

Naturally these steps can be undertaken at an individual level too and built in to the performance management process.

The bottom line is that it is paramount for organisational success that strategic thinking is considered the property of all and that there is empowerment of individuals at all levels to own and take responsibility.

So whose job is strategic thinking? Everyone’s.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

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