Strategic thinking skills, in an ideal world would be something developed at all levels of an organisation. However, realistically speaking, strategically smart workers would not be much use if their managers and bosses are not strategic! So an organisation needs to lead by example and develop strategic thinking skills in their management, or recruit strategic thinkers at high levels.
What strategic thinking skills are the most useful?
There a range of skills that can directly lead to improved company performance and affect the bottom line, while other skills may be seen as a luxury for future development. Let us start with 3 strategic thinking skills without which most organisations would flounder
- The strategic thinking skill of OBJECTIVE setting. Now, this may seem obvious but in reality a lot of companies and managers are dreadful at setting objectives. At best, the objectives are fluffy and vague, at worst they are completely unachievable. We all know about SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related objectives – but they can become no more than tick boxes if no strategic thinking skills are applied to setting them. Strategic thinking about objectives can actually see the end result and work back, breaking down each step into manageable tasks for every level of the workforce. At the same time the strategic thinker never loses sight of the big picture.
- The strategic thinking skill of FLEXIBILITY. Why include this in the top 3 list? The 21st century is a tough environment for business and the ability to think out of the box and adapt to change is a crucial thinking skill nowadays. Flexibility as a strategic thinking skill is not just based around being able to react quickly to change- it is about having considered the possibility of change in advance. The strategic thinker can see several scenarios at once and is able to move between them, changing direction when encountering obstacles. In much the same way a skilled chess player can see the potential variations and implications of both theirs and their opponents moves.
- The strategic thinking skill of COLLABORATION. It may seem at first glance that the strategic thinker is a rather lofty and isolated person, perhaps a bit too clever for those around them? Not at all; the true strategic thinker is a collaborative beast- they harness the talents and ideas of others. Strategic thinking requires you to be a good listener and accept that others ideas have value.
How to develop strategic thinking skills in management?
- Give your senior staff time to think! Part of teacher training is a process called reflective learning and teachers also apply that to their students. If there is no quiet time to reflect on success and/or failure you are more likely to experience continuing failure. Companies that flog their management to death with anti-social working hours, skipped lunch breaks and unreasonable demands on their time will reap the benefit with stressed, burnt out executives whose performance will suffer. Strategic thinking takes time, but can become faster and more second nature if nurtured.
- Encourage left brain/right brain activity. Strategic thinking skills are most evident in people who use both sides of their brains to problem solve. This means marrying the creative and the logical. Much of management is linear and logical, and the creative side is left to “specialists” who also scorn the logical and practical. This inevitably leads to conflict across the boardroom table. With practice and collaboration, you can enhance the strategic thinking skills of both your accountant and your graphic designer- making them work together could yield extraordinary results.
- Establish a culture of learning, not just going to trade conferences, but learning other skills. If your finance officer wants to study Art History, let them, support them; it will develop another aspect of their thinking they can then apply in the workplace. Lifelong learning has shown to ward of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative illnesses. The brain also needs exercise to develop strategic thinking skills.
Simple and fun ideas to encourage strategic thinking skills in the workplace
Developing strategic thinking skills in the workplace does not have to be expensive or complicated. Here are some fun ideas for making the company culture more thinking friendly.
a). Start a chess club – it is refined “war on a board” and encourages forward thinking- plus it is something all levels of ability can play. The Art of War is the ultimate strategic thinking book as I explained in my last post
b). Swap out your usual team building exercises with something more like a treasure hunt with challenges both physical and mental. Camaraderie is good to build, but encouraging tem problem solving will improve everyone’s strategic thinking skills.
c). Give your workers a break room with Sudoku, crosswords, even dig out the old Rubik’s cube! Puzzles are good for left and right brain development.
Strategic thinking skills can be developed if the culture is there and ultimately the company will benefit.