How often have you heard someone speak of 'being strategic' in a meeting? Can anyone be strategic in just one meeting? This is possibly true if there is a particular turning point, but usually strategy develops and deploys over many years. One may 'think strategically' when conceptualising a future that is years ahead, but when we are about to go into an important meeting, even something we consider to be a watershed event, we are working at best at the level of tactics and not strategy. Strategy is not simply how you act towards other people in the next meeting you attend, no matter how important that individual meeting might be. Strategy is also not a simple set of mission, vision, goals, objectives and tactics.
Strategic thinking has been described as "a process of developing and evaluating every decision and action in light of current and future circumstances, the direction you want to go in and the results you want to achieve."
Strategy has as much to do with how we intelligently allocate our time and energies, as it has to how we can best serve our clients. It has a lot to do with outperforming other organisations that may have compatible access to skilled people and resources. Among the biggest enemies of working strategically is 'fire fighting' in companies (nothing to do with the essential service of putting out real fires), which is often the result of mismanagement and lack of planning.
There are thousands of books on management, leadership and strategic management that could help managers and leaders in organisations. It takes a great deal of becoming organised, having a long-term goal and galvanising the organisation toward achieving that goal to achieve 'a strategy'. Senior managers that keep coming up with different and possibly conflicting ideas that keep their middle managers and supervisors busy, sap their organisations of the energy needed to strive for the true strategic goal, and reduce the ability or managers to 'think strategically' and 'be strategic'.
Habits of strategic thinkers (adapted from an article in Inc. Magazine):
1 anticipate future game changers to which the organisation must respond;
2 are able to think critically and to question the status quo and current beliefs and mind-sets;
3 interpret ambiguity; hold steady while considering and interpreting a range of inputs;
4 make decisions and avoid management paralysis through continuous analysis and the inability to make decisions. (Perfection can be a great excuse for managers who do not have the confidence to make up their minds.);
5 bring people with divergent points of view together, bring issues to the surface and develop the necessary bridges to build trust and engagement between people;
6 keep the learning process going. Not only should people and organisations learn form their own successes and failures, they should learn from others. When something is learned, strategic thinkers are able to quickly align their strategies over the years ahead.
We do need to manage meetings well - this is thinking tactically. Each tactical action contributes toward a long-term strategy.
Submitted on 16 November 2014. First published on AfricaEducation.org.
Learning about Strategy