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The key stages of Strategic Thinking

5th December 2017

Strategic Thinking is about visualising the future, analysing opportunities (and potential problems) from a broad perspective and understanding the potential impact your actions might have on others.

It focuses around continually looking ahead, setting goals and targets, and asking “what if…?”

Strategic thinkers visualise what might or could be, and take a holistic approach to day-to-day issues and challenges.

It’s important to remember that every employee can find opportunities to think more strategically – individually or collaboratively. By thinking strategically in groups, you gain other people’s perspectives on critical and complex issues – a key benefit in today’s challenging business environments.

‘Strategic Thinking rarely occurs spontaneously’ – Michael Porter

So, what can we do to think more strategically?


  1. Seeing the big picture

Understanding the broader business environment in which you operate.

Understand your company and unit’s strategies. Stay up to date on the issues and concerns of your customers, competitors, and industry as they relate to your job function. Consider the potential impact of your decisions and actions on the company overall and on your boss, managers of other units and teams, and fellow employees.


  1. Articulating strategic objectives

Determining what you hope to achieve by thinking strategically.

You should:

  • Understand your boss’s objectives
  • Define your own objectives
  • Identify project-related objectives
  • Make your objectives “SMART”


  1. Identifying relationships, patterns and trends

Spotting patterns across seemingly unrelated events, and categorising related information to reduce the number of issues you must deal with at one time.

  • Get to know people in other functional groups by volunteering to serve on cross-functional teams or committees. Find out these groups’ strategies and goals, and compare them to your objectives to assess whether they fit.
  • Obtain a copy of your company’s organisation chart. Find out what major functions other groups in your company are responsible for and how these groups affect your group’s work-and vice versa. Ask your manager or an experienced peer to help explain these connections.
  • When examining large quantities of seemingly unrelated data or looking at apparently unconnected events, ask, “What seems to be the common theme underlying the different pieces of information or events? What does the data seem to be telling me?”
  • Whenever you hear or read about a good idea or practice, ask, “How might I apply this approach to my own situation? What common challenges does my group share with this seemingly different group that might mean this good idea could work for us?”
  • Track changes over time for performance metrics that are important to your group.


  1. Getting creative

Generating alternatives, visualising new possibilities, challenging your assumptions, and opening yourself to new information.

 When you think creatively, you create new value for your unit and company in the form of more efficient processes, more innovative product ideas, and better ways to serve customers.


‘Strategic and creative thinkers see opportunities everywhere’ – Jenni Murphy Scanlon


  1. Analysing information

Sorting out and prioritising the most important information while making a decision, managing a project, handling a conflict and so on.

Make sure you focus on:

  • Identifying critical information you need
  • Steering clear of irrelevant information
  • Crafting an information-gathering plan
  • Building on existing knowledge


  1. Prioritising your actions

Staying focused on your objectives while handling multiple demands and competing priorities.

Knowing how to prioritise your actions constitutes another aspect of applying your strategic thinking skills. In any business situation, whether it’s managing a project, planning your day, making a decision, or solving a problem, you can spend your time and energy in an almost infinite number of ways.


  1. Making trade-offs

Recognising the potential advantages and disadvantages of an idea or course of action, making choices regarding what you will and won’t do, and balancing short and long-term concerns.

Making trade-offs involves setting priorities, identifying alternatives, understanding the impact of your actions, and clarifying what you will strive to accomplish through a particular course of action. As well as what you won’t seek to attain.

  • Assess the pros and cons of a proposed course of action
  • Compare short-term and long-term outcomes
  • Balance unit and organisation needs
  • Learn to say no


‘Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.’ – Morris Chang