Most businesses have a strategic plan. However, many don’t have a clear strategy. Strategic planning has too often morphed into budgeting and annual planning (namely, “that meeting we do in November.”) Both terribly important activities, but not strategy. Strategic thinking is frequently divorced from strategic planning.
If we define strategy as an aligned set of activities designed to create a sustainable competitive advantage, we begin to see the problem with the analytical, bureaucratic activity that companies conduct annually called “strategic planning.” It’s necessary but insufficient.
Strategic thinking creates a picture of the future, identifies the current reality and then connects the dots. These dots are the “what” that is necessary to succeed, not the “how.” What must come before how.
Strategic thinking allows CEOs to identify why customers will buy from their company and not those of competitors. Strategic thinking identifies what an organization’s driving force needs to be. Strategic thinking allows alignment of activities, a method to determine the investments required and guidance as to what systems need to be in place, what behaviors the business should reward and what type of people the company should hire.
Guide to Thinking Strategically
Strategic thinking training starts at the top of the organization. CEOs must “own” strategy in their company. However, just like psychologists wouldn’t perform marriage counseling on themselves, CEOs who try to facilitate strategic thinking with their team will find it challenging.
It’s more effective to have a guide to help improve strategic thinking. Why?
- It allows CEOs to engage in the process and not have to facilitate simultaneously.
- It allows balanced participation from the entire senior team. CEOs might not be aware of how frequently their ideas dominate the discussion.
- Most CEOs spend the bulk of their career managing strategy, not crafting it. Thinking strategically requires discipline and a process. It also requires thinking outside the box. Facilitated strategic thinking will enhance the quality of the ideas.
Here’s what that might look like:
Facilitated strategic thinking is a process for CEOs/general managers and their management team to examine the future, identify the current reality and connect the dots by fleshing out the critical issues they must address. This leads to a clear path to success and confidence in strategic direction. This typically takes place over several months.
One-on-one strategy reviews can be effective for CEOs to walk through their vision, assumptions, strategy, plans, critical issues, core competencies and ability to execute.
Customized strategic solutions are sometimes necessary. Organizations are all in different places regarding their strategy development and execution and one-size-fits-all solutions are a mistake.
Don’t forget about strategy implementation! A well-worn axiom that says that it is “all about the execution!” That is hogwash. If you have bad strategy it doesn’t matter how well you execute. However, if you have a great strategy that is poorly executed, you’ll fail. Building the right systems, processes, rewards and skills to support your strategy is something that we are well skilled to help you with.
If you’re struggling to articulate your sustainable competitive advantage, to engage your team or to execute your strategy, call 303-527-0417 to learn all about our CEO Advisory Services or email Todd.