5 Ways to Help Get Employees to Think More Strategically

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When asked to select the leadership behavior most critical to their organizations’ future success, executives chose strategic thinking 97 percent of the time, according to a large scale global research study by the Management Research Group, and strategic thinkers have been found to be among the most highly effective leaders.

Executives rated a strategic approach to leadership as ten times more important to the perception of effectiveness over other attributes including innovation, persuasion, communication or results orientation.

You need to think systematically

Strategic thinkers take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning. That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what needs to be accomplished over time and what has to happen now to get there.

It also means thinking systemically – identifying the impact of decisions on all areas of the organization, as well as suppliers and customers.

The high priority senior leaders place on strategic thinking reinforces the importance of building this mindset into professional development programs.

How to foster more strategic thinking

Here are several ways you can foster more strategic thinking with your team:

  1. Be generous with information. Encourage employees to set aside time to think strategically and provide information on your market, industry, customers, competitors, and emerging technologies. One of the key prerequisites of strategic leadership is having relevant and broad business information that helps employees elevate their thinking beyond the day-to-day, and then sharing the results of their thinking and efforts throughout the organization.
  2. Develop a mentor program. One of the most effective ways to develop strategic skills is to be mentored by someone who is highly strategic. The ideal mentor is someone who is widely known for their ability to keep people focused on strategic objectives and the impact of their actions.
  3. Create a philosophy. Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, a mission statement, and achievable goals throughout the company. Employees need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to stay focused and incorporate the strategy into their own plans and objectives.
  4. Reward thinking, not reaction. Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting. Wherever possible, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management. Reward your employees for being able to quickly generate several solutions to a given problem and identifying the solution with the greatest long-term benefit to the organization.
  5. Ask better questions. Promote a future perspective for employees by incorporating it into training and development programs; teach people what strategic thinking is and encourage them to ask “why” and “when” questions. When they suggest a course of action, ask them to consider what underlying strategic goal this action serves, and what the impact will be on internal and external stakeholders. Consistently asking these two questions whenever action is considered will go a long way towards developing strategic thinkers.

Developing a strategic approach often makes the difference between an average and an exceptional outcome. Instill the skill in your best employees and managers first, and they’ll help pass it along to other natural leaders within your company. 

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on OCTanner.com

  • Teri Johnson

    Great article and ideas. As a strengths coach, I would also suggest having employees learn their natural strengths through Gallup and encouraging those with the strategic strength in their signature (top 5) partner with teams who want to sharpen their strategic approach.

  • Ron

    All good ideas but the first one is critical – getting information to employees so they will not only think but act strategically. I recall my days in the auto industry. When the company began an “employee involvement program’ the first thing they did was to get the unions to be a partner. Next, they actually took employees who worked the assembly lines to vendors places of business to show them that the work that they did meant something and there was a pipeline that needed to be created in order to make the program work. They then built teams of workers who were responsible for making improvements to the work being performed and now that the workers had a “vision” of their job and what it meant, lots of good things began to happen. There is more to it than this, but unless employees understand why they are there, what they are charged with doing and the importance of their work, all the involvement programs in the world will fail.

    • http://www.octanner.com/ Michelle M. Smith

      Ron, you are so right! Thanks for sharing, AND for being part of a great initiative in the auto industry. I hope they’re still running the employee involvement program.

  • David Hunt, PE

    My experience is that companies only want this from pre-selected “Golden Children”. Those who are not already on the short list don’t get advanced or praised even if they do think this way.