If you answered “both,” you win the prize.
What’s the difference between the two? Typically, strategic planning involves a formal process whereby company leaders and senior managers gather for a day or two and peer into the future to chart a course of action for the organization. This process usually results in a written plan that guides the company for the next one to three years.
Strategic thinking occurs when the entire organization begins to act in concert with the strategic plan. It involves teaching people at all levels of the organization to anticipate opportunities and threats while managing the day-to-day tasks that fall within their scope of responsibilities.
In most companies, front-line employees are trained to function in the moment rather than prepare for the future. Yet, just like the long-term success of the business, each individual’s success is dependent on his or her ability to implement tactics and perform in the moment, as well as execute plans for all of tomorrow’s accomplishments.
To encourage your entire organization to think more strategically, consider the following principles:
Overcome Fear of Failure. Accept that mistakes will happen. In fact, if they’re not happening, it probably means you’re not keeping up with your market. Instead of seeking to avoid mistakes, learn from them and design plans that allow for the occasional setback.
Take Incremental Steps. Never try to send a spaceship to the moon before you learn how to fly. Start with the strategies and components you can expect to reasonably sustain, and build on your early successes. This will help support the riskier components of your plan.
Make a Commitment. People aren’t stupid. No matter what you say, employees will wait to see what you and other leaders and senior managers actually do before they commit to anything new and different. Stand behind your plan and vision with actions and people will be drawn to achieve the goals.
Pick Up Speed. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for the ideal moment. In today’s world, there are no ideal moments. If you have planned and are focused, engage strategic components of your plan now and you will generate the momentum to carry through.
Be Responsive. Prepare to adapt your methods and processes to deal with roadblocks or changes. Developing the skills of flexibility and adaptability will ensure you can modify the plan when necessary and increase its chances of success. In fact, the more you encourage employees to think strategically, the more flexible and adaptable they will become.
Demonstrate Resolve. Understand the implications of your plan and allocate resources realistically. Strategic targets are never achieved without follow-through and alignment. Just saying you are going to do something does not make it happen. You have to have the organization capabilities (including people, process, system, tools & dollars) to make it happen.
Instill Teamwork. Gain the confidence and trust of your organization especially the managers who most directly influence individual contributors. Instill your vision in them, and help them succeed in their jobs so they can do the same for the organization.
What happens when employees begin to think more strategically?
They become more responsive to changing customer needs. They learn to identify potential threats, obstacles, and problem areas before they reach the critical point. They become better problem solvers as they learn how their decisions and actions impact the business in the future as well as today. And they become more involved with and more supportive of the overall strategic plan.
In the past, most companies could get by with just strategic planning. Today’s topsy-turvy markets demand more. Engage in strategic planning on a regular basis AND enhance the abilities to think strategically throughout the company. Your organization will become more flexible while increasing your ability to handle any new challenges that come your way.