Elements of Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking boils down to one simple question: What is the desired outcome? The answer to that question helps an executive drive organizational strategy through various ways to maximize results in minimal time, maintain a bird’s-eye view of the big picture and ensure the team aligns its goals with those of the organization.

Your goals tie together all the disparate members of a team as well as the strategies that apply both individually and collectively. By its very nature, strategic thinking requires you to learn to make the best decisions you can as quickly as possible, boosting innovation and flexibility, helping your team adapt to circumstances as they change.

Just as importantly, you have to be able to communicate those adaptations to all involved. Like the captain of a ship, you should always consult with your officers before making a decision, taking their viewpoints and suggestions into account. But the decisions are ultimately yours, and you must make them. Once you’ve made a decision, you and your team have to execute immediately — on the spot if necessary

Strategy tends to fall into place more easily when it’s built on mission, vision and values — which, in turn, makes it easier to determine corresponding goals and tactics. Effective leaders hitch themselves to the organization’s star and align team and personal goals with the organization’s.

Then they determine the most efficient ways to advance together. Some of your team members will have a better understanding of goal-setting than others, so it’s up to you to make sure they all stay on the same wavelength. Here’s how:

1. Start with individual team members. You’ll find it easier to establish team goals if individual members also have personal goals to reach for. As you learn your team members’ personal and professional development goals, help them find ways to weave those goals into the general goal-fabric of both team and organization.

2. Set reasonable goals. Whether it involves finishing a particular project or improving overall performance, provide your team with reasonable goals that include time-based milestones and objectives.

3. Ensure a supportive, productive working environment. Invite open discussion and sharing of resources. Continually ask people how they think productivity can be improved.

4. Clear the way to the target –– and give your team something to shoot for. As the leader, you’re also a facilitator. You not only have to clarify what the goals are and how to get there, but you’ll also need to help blaze a trail.

5. Track your team’s productivity, and provide meaningful feedback. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Keep an eye on your team deliverables and overall production using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), timesheet software or scoreboard programs such as Kaptasystems.com or i-nexus.com. 

Modern leadership involves more than just telling people what to do. Because you’re responsible for helping the company stay profitable, you have no choice but to embrace change. Change has become essential to the continued growth and development of global business. It stirs things up, cross-fertilizing ideas and aerating the waters of creativity.

You can’t afford complacency, because some hungry young company will always be pushing the envelope and trying to steal part of your market share. Innovation provokes changes that must occur for us to move forward. It can be tricky, but there are ways to handle innovation so you can advance your agenda without having the situation blow up in your face. For example, don’t try to act on all your ideas at once.

Don’t let history hold you back, either. Just because something didn’t work before doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Also, don’t assume the experts are right. Even experts sometimes get it wrong. Today’s leaders should adopt these six change management methods:

1. Employ enhanced flexibility. Instead of trying to meet requirements that no longer match reality, be open to modifying the scope and direction of projects as you move forward.

2. Aim for controlled growth. As we move into a business landscape that has been decimated by recent economic troubles, we must take care not to expand too far, too fast. Take time when you need it so you can consolidate your gains.

3. Consider calculated abandonment. In the spirit of controlled growth, you may need to help your people adjust to changes that result when company leaders decide to cut losses by selling off or abandoning underperforming projects, markets or locations.

4. Constantly upgrade your technology. Given how fast technology advances, the stuff you were using last year might be given away in cereal boxes next year.

5. Retune your team’s activities regularly. While you rarely want to micromanage, check in with your people regularly to make sure they’re in tune — not only with the team but with the organization.

6. Evolve with society. No matter how much you love the product you make or service you provide, it can become obsolete overnight as society changes. You may have to change just to stay relevant, so be willing to reconsider your branding and reinvent yourself occasionally. 

 Effective communication sets profitable, productive organizations apart from the duds. It can take many forms, but the factors that work best are plain talk, honesty and cooperation.

Your communication must be simple and straightforward, especially when conveying the organization’s mission to employees. To ensure your team members do their work correctly the first time, communicate your expectations clearly and concisely. Follow these three rules:

1. Repeatedly communicate your expectations.

2. Triple check for understanding.

3. Communicate in multiple ways.

Promoting Your Vision Clear communication is important in all directions, upward and laterally as well as downward. People who rise to a management level are often competent and strong willed, so you might find yourself at odds with another peer leader or with your own superior.

When you’re at loggerheads with someone for any reason, you’ll want to find the most efficient way to resolve the issue quickly. Here’s how you can argue your point productively, so everyone can move quickly through the dispute phase and get back to work.

  • Get all your ducks in a row. Prepare your arguments, and have your facts straight.
  • Probe them for weaknesses, so you can strengthen your position.
  • Run your thoughts by neutral people, and ask them to shoot holes in your argument.
  • Disagree early, clearly and politely. Remain open to others’ points, but make your position clear.
  • Be simple, to the point and specific about your concerns.
  • Don’t dispute an argument in general terms; always use specific examples to refute it.
  • Don’t use sarcasm or name-calling.
  • Consider the opposing argument. Others in a dispute may have several good points, in which case you can integrate those points into your decision-making process and hammer out a compromise.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. You can’t work something out if you won’t talk to one another.
  • Jump on the phone or meet face-to-face instead of sending a volley of email.

 Too often, indecision rules in the workplace, because decision-makers fear making mistakes. Yet the occasional mistake is the price of effective decision-making. It’s better to take a wrong turn than no turn at all.

You can always change direction to correct an error or to meet a new threat or opportunity head-on. Test your choices against these imperatives:

  • Core values, mission and vision. If you’re in alignment with your organization’s core values, some decisions will come surprisingly easily. Ditto for mission and vision.
  • Outcome. Follow the decision to its logical conclusion. Can you see danger lurking somewhere down that path? Does one possible outcome satisfy you more than the others? What contingency plans can you put into place? Return on investment (ROI). This is crucial for most businesses. Will your decision make your company more money than it spends? Include all the factors you can think of, and remember, it’s what happens in the long run that counts.
  • Opportunity cost. Every choice you make closes other doors. If you decide to do something, what will it keep you from doing in the future? Is what you skip worth missing out on? What other trade-offs will you face? Efficient use of time and resources. Will this decision slow workflow and efficiency in your organization? If so, you’d better choose “tails,” unless some other benefit offsets the wasted resources.

 Once you’ve made the decision, execute! When it comes to productivity and success, execution trumps all. The ability to make ideas happen means the difference between success and failure, so sometimes you have to set a hard line and be the boss. That means, among other things, stop accepting excuses, set strict deadlines, don’t overcomplicate things, hone the team’s skills and help them structure their time.

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