Management Training that Will Enhance Your Strategic Thinking
As much as we would want it to actually be true, not everyone is born as a strategist. That does not mean, however, that we are incapable of strategizing, or coming up with strategies. Ask some so-called experts and authorities, and they would say that real life itself is a game of strategy. Thus, we are all capable of strategic thinking.
However, there is one fact that we cannot disagree with: some people are better strategists than others. There are simply those who are more capable of strategic thinking than other people, and if you have often wondered why that is the case, we can cite a few reasons for it.
One is the inherent attitude of the person towards strategic thinking. Some people are open to the idea of learning how to do it, while others prefer to stick to what they have, so to speak. Another is the environment and the circumstances surrounding the person. It is possible that the environment they are currently moving around in does not permit them to be free with strategic thinking.
Despite that, there is one sure thing: we can all learn to be strategic thinkers. We can train ourselves to be better at strategic thinking, and in the succeeding discussion, we will look into the management training that will enable us to think strategically, or enhance our ability to do so.
WHAT IS STRATEGIC THINKING?
If we were to be very broad about the definition of strategic thinking, we can apply the definition referring to it as the “mental thinking process applied by an individual in the context of achieving success in any endeavor”. With that said, let us be more specific and look at strategic thinking in line with business and organizational settings.
Thus, we can define strategic thinking as the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to come up with effective plans in line with the achievement of the goals and objectives of an organization, using the resources available to them at a given point in time, and taking into consideration the specific economic situation presently being faced by the organization.
Strategic thinking becomes very important in a business’ or organization’s strategic management process. Strategic management is basically the formulation, development and implementation of the initiatives of an organization, dependent on the current access to, and availability of, resources and the current state of the internal and external environments it operates in, all for the attainment of the major goals of the organization.
Within the context of strategic management, strategic thinking involves the generation of unique business insights that will help improve the organization’s overall performance in the market and industry it competes in. It also refers to the application of these insights, and the constant search for opportunities that the organization can take, in order to gain an edge or advantage over the competition.
It is, therefore, safe to say that strategic thinking involves the application of innovation and planning, in order to develop business strategies that will aid the business in the long run, and increasing its chances for success.
STRATEGIC THINKING VS. STRATEGIC PLANNING
There are instances when strategic thinking is considered to be the same thing as “strategic planning”. However, these two are actually different thought processes used in strategic management. That does not mean that they are completely unrelated, though, because they are actually “interrelated and even complementary”. Together, they make for effective strategic management.
Strategic thinking addresses the “what” and the “why” of the whole planning process. What should the organization be doing in order to achieve its major goals? Why should these actions be chosen, instead of other alternative steps or actions?
Strategic planning, on the other hand, focuses on the “when” and “how” of things. Somehow, it precludes management from thinking strategically, because it is more systematic in its approach. For instance, it now involves the identification of steps or actions that will be taken in order to achieve the goals.
The difference between the two can also be seen in the involvement of members of the organization. Strategic thinking allows lower-level managers to have their say in developing strategies for the business, while strategic planning only allows senior or top management in plan creation. Granted, the lower-level managers are still likely to be the ones to provide the information or data that will be used in the planning, but the planning will still be left in the hands of top management.
It goes without saying that strategic thinking assumes that all managers are fully aware and informed of the flow of work or transactions throughout the entire organization. They understand the bigger picture, and they have an idea how the overall system works.
In strategic planning, the lower level managers are not expected to have that much knowledge. It is actually enough for them to be fully informed of what their specific roles and responsibilities are.
In short, strategic thinking is more comprehensive than strategic planning, since it also makes room for innovation. It allows creativity to seep into the planning process, something that cannot be said for strategic planning. Strategic thinking is also seen as the much broader thought process, since it also encompasses strategic planning, aside from innovation and operational planning.
IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGIC THINKING IN BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS
Businesses and organizations – both big and small ones – benefit greatly from strategic thinking.
Ultimately, strategic thinking allows managers to perform better in terms of decision-making and helping the business to grow. But have you ever wondered how that could specifically be achieved? Here’s how.
Strategic thinking improves operational efficiency
Businesses often find themselves dealing with limitations in resources. Resources are scarce, so managers are left to work with what they have.
Through strategic thinking, managers can be creative, determining how to use the limited resources of the organization in the most effective and efficient manner, towards the attainment of organizational goals and objectives.
For the strategic thinking manager, having limited resources is not an excuse for an organization’s failure to achieve its goals.
Strategic thinking helps in the review of business policies
If anything, the market is very volatile. Change is constant and, in business, it is even more fast-paced. Economies are always subject to upheavals, and these could have far-reaching effects on businesses. Every day, new competitors are entering the market, posing a threat to the business. Even the introduction of new technologies and systems can have an effect on the operations of an organization.
These changes and shifts often call for appropriate changes in the policies of a business. That is why there is a need to regularly review these policies and processes, so the organization can adapt accordingly. Strategic thinking aids in this review, and in the subsequent adaptation steps that will be taken by the organization in response to these changes.
Strategic thinking aids in long-term planning
Strategic thinking is not just concerned about what will happen in the next three months, or even in the next year. It is more forward-looking, even anticipating changes way down in the future. Looking far ahead will enable management to come up with plans that will be used to deal with these changes as they happen, when they happen.
Preparedness is one of the key strengths of companies that are able to minimize the damage that may be caused by sudden downturns or upheavals in business and economy. Some businesses fare better than others, while there are businesses that end up going bankrupt and closing up shop.
The most likely reason is that they are not able to anticipate and make long-term plans, precisely because they did not apply strategic thinking in their planning processes.
Strategic thinking helps management set organizational goals and priorities
Through strategic thinking, management can have an easier time setting clear organizational goals and objectives. In the process, it can also easily identify the areas that it should prioritize on.
For example, a business with multinational operations will be likely to study all the nations and markets that they operate in, and identify the markets where the business is most likely to succeed.
The response of the management would naturally be to prioritize those markets, and think of another way to improve operations in the areas where they are not doing so well.
Strategic thinking helps in the identification of potential risks, threats and opportunities
One advantage of strategic thinking being deep is how it looks beneath the surface, allowing management to identify risks and threats before they even arise.
Strategic thinking utilizes data that are generated internally and externally. It even makes use of opinions and perceptions. These sources of data collectively help in the identification of these emerging risks.
And it is not just about the negative side, either, because strategic thinking, when done and used right, will also help the business in identifying potential opportunities that, in the future, may be beneficial to business operations and its competitive position in the market.
Here is how you can perform a SWOT analysis.
Strategic thinking improves a business’ competitive position
As we mentioned earlier, competition is a constant battle in business. One competitor may be gone today, but trust that another one – or two – will rise up tomorrow.
Through strategic thinking, management will be more prepared in keeping its competitive position, because it will not be focused solely on its own strengths and weaknesses. Instead, it will also take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors.
MANAGEMENT APPROACHES AND TRAINING FOR STRATEGIC THINKING
The core of strategic thinking is the ability of management to anticipate and prepare for major changes and shifts in the marketplace, and identify potential opportunities that will give it competitive advantage. The big question is, what management trainings can be taken in order to encourage managers to enhance their strategic thinking?
To be realistic, it is quite difficult to develop strategic thinkers in an organization. After all, it has something to do with one’s mindset, so unless a manager shows willingness and is receptive to adapt this kind of mindset, it is going to be a difficult road ahead. However, once they opened themselves to the idea, you can now start training these managers for strategic thinking.
Maintaining a clear and well-defined organizational vision, mission, goal statement and philosophy
Managers should know what they are working towards, and what the organization hopes to achieve, in order for them to function and carry out their roles and responsibilities towards attainment of such goals and objectives.
Thus, the philosophy, vision and goals of the organization should be communicated and reiterated time and again to all the managers, and other members of the organization.
Integration of strategic planning to the work schedule
Managers may look at strategic thinking as something that can be turned on and off when they want to. That it is something that they can do only at specific points in time, when the specific task at hand calls for it.
Change this way of thinking. Encourage your managers to make strategic thinking a regular part of their job, and as an ongoing task.
Make sure that they integrate it into their schedule – when they are working alone on their specific tasks, when they are interacting with other employees or members of the organization in a semi-formal or informal setting, and even when they are in meetings and formal gatherings.
Accumulation and proper dissemination and usage of relevant information
Relevant business information encompasses data on the industry that the business operates in, the market that it belongs to, the industry leaders, the customers, and the competitors in the market.
It also covers information on technologies – old, new and prospective – and systems that will have an impact on the organization. Accumulate these information and distribute them to the leaders and managers in the organization.
These will arm them for strategic thinking. Keep in mind that strategic thinking makes use of data and information obtained internally and externally. With the right and ample amount of information, managers are more equipped for strategic thinking.
Keeping people informed on internal matters
Managers should always be kept in the loop on what is happening within the organization, and it should not be limited in their own departments or turfs alone.
We earlier differentiated strategic thinking from strategic planning in this respect, that strategic thinkers know and understand the bigger picture, as opposed to strategic planning, where managers are focused in their own backyards.
Strategic thinking often entails managers of various teams and departments collaborating and coordinating with each other, especially in cases where their functions overlap or coincide with each other. Thus, it will be to their advantage to be in the know on what is happening within the organization.
Learn how L’Oreal is working on internal communication.
Management should advocate the idea of highly strategic managers taking on the role of mentors to other, lower-level managers.
Mentoring has always been seen as an effective way to create and develop new leaders and managers, and it is also a great way to develop one’s strategic thinking.
Enforcing a rewards system for those who demonstrate signs of strategic thinking
Do you have managers or employees that show potential of thinking strategically? Maybe you have employees who show great promise in risk identification and crisis management.
These are areas where strategic thinking will be most useful. Once you identify these employees, it would be good to reward them for it, since it would serve as added motivation for them to pursue this thought process.
Incorporating strategic thinking into training and development programs
Sometimes, being straightforward is the best approach. Be open about your efforts to encourage strategic thinking among your workforce. Conduct training programs, orientations or seminars where you discuss with them the concept of strategic thinking, and how they can apply it in the workplace.
You should make sure to tap the right speakers and resource people to speak about strategic thinking to your employees. Their credibility will leave more impact to the employees, and they will take the topic more seriously.
Exposure to diversity
People tend to have different thinking methods, and exposing managers to as many of these different methods will help them learn more and develop their own independent thinking method. Say, for example, that a financial services company is thinking of training its managers to be strategic thinkers.
One way to do that is to allow its managers to collaborate, interact and even just spend time with professionals from other fields, such as computer experts, artists, designers, and the like, instead of limiting their exposure to fellow financial experts and analysts. Being exposed to different types of people will open up worlds previously unknown to them.
Personal “recharging” of managers’ minds and bodies
Believe it or not, taking care of your managers’ well-being is another management technique that will improve the way they carry out their tasks as managers and leaders.
Allowing managers to take some time off, maybe go on an extended vacation or a sabbatical, will help freshen up their minds and bodies. In turn, fresh minds and healthy bodies will help in the entire thinking process.
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