Most experienced executives and high-potential leaders understand the strategic thinking process and how they must take an organisation to a future point with aligned goals and a desire to achieve them. The strategic goals and vision of an organisation are a living thing; informing the daily, weekly, monthly and annual actions of the organisation and its people.
As an HR professional it is your role to support the ‘organisation’ (i.e. its people and leaders) to clarify and effectively deliver this future vision. So is your strategic thinking up to scratch?
How do you become a strategic thinker?
I have coached many profoundly strategic thinkers who are not recognised for this capability by their organisation and peer groups because they keep their light hidden. This is often a matter of confidence, familiarity and not wanting to look stupid. Consequently we leave the ‘strategic’ landscape to the ‘proper’ thinkers! But the strategic landscape is there for the taking.
Start by understanding the difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning. Executives are often trained in strategic planning, not thinking, this is also usually in the one approach they have experienced. Mintzberg et al. list 10 ‘approaches’ in their book Strategy Safari.
Be bold, set out to be the advocate and role model for effective future thinking, and facilitate the organisation (its people and leaders) to tread a path into the future. Be the practical facilitator when the organisation veers off course as it faces the realities of the marketplace. Think about how to minimise the damage and set a course to get back on track. A strategic vision for the organisation is a direction of travel and momentum towards where you should be heading. Lead it.
Understand and articulate the future environment of your company and the direct and practical impact on your sector and business. Hold these as the vision and culture you are seeking for the future of your organisation.
Do this strategic thinking about everything you do: from re-organising the catering to the annual budget process. Don’t lecture people about how they are failing to deliver the vision, encourage them to do better and think strategically about how you and they can minimise damage and maximise the advantage.
Once you have ‘operationalised’ your strategic thinking it becomes your personal ‘brand value’. You will be less the HR person and more one of the business’ strategic thinkers.
Strategic thinking is not always about being nice, but think about how you can maintain the path to the vision and retain your values and culture during times of adversity, because that’s when it counts.
As you become seen as the company’s strategic thinker, using your engaged, conceptual thinking skills, you will attract and cluster with people of influence internally and externally as they seek your influence, advice and guidance.
All the other ‘stuff’ you do will become easier as you gain perspective and clarity of vision. Practise your strategic thinking, developing it and honing it. It provides insight, viewpoints and foresight that will be sought-after by others. You are turning the strategic tables, everyone else is thinking ‘how will this affect me and my team?’You, the CEO and the board become the strategic pivot of the organisation for its sustainable future.
Think strategically about what stakeholders you will need to achieve this, what networks you will need to grow, and how you will meet key people. Think emotionally about how you will inspire colleagues and peers to join this vision.
Let your goals direct you; your goals are important and are a fundamental driver of your career. Strategies only occasionally happen by accident, more often they are achieved by being in the right place with the right capabilities at the right time (called luck by some people). Don’t wait for luck.
Set your goals big. ‘In 18 months I will be recognised as a key strategic thinker in my organisation’. Break it down and set out the road map of how to achieve it. To paraphrase rabbi Hillel the Elder: “If not now, when? If not you, who?”
Helen Pitcher is chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence