How to bring strategic thinking into your organisation  

Fiona Hathorn, CEO of Women on Boards UK, shares her thoughts on how to bring strategic thinking into your organisation - whether you're a non-executive director or a senior leader.                                                                 

We've all come across those organisations which are, at best, limping along, with employees always under severe pressureEmail-square-image-strategic-thinking.png and thus never realising their potential, particularly in the context of a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) environment. 

The difference between these organisations and the market leaders is all too often in the quality of their strategic thinking. According to UGM Consulting, 'most organisations engage in strategy planning and publish their strategies but are not necessarily strategic'.  Their ‘strategies’ are in fact more operational-type plans, generated by a corporate process or an unimaginative away day. They might look good but only contain a high degree of certainty with no capacity for unexpected surprises - nothing like the real world!  

Organisations which anticipate change and are prepared for the unexpected are better placed to exploit emergent opportunities and manage new risks. Good leaders  challenge organisations to do this by prompting others to think outside of the box. However, to do this well you need to understand the difference between planning and strategic thinking. So what does it mean to 'be strategic'?

It is in fact notoriously difficult to explain. This perhaps explains why Leading Strategically is one of the most popular of the six modules within our Getting to the C-Suite leadership programme

As UGM point out in their article How to be more strategic there is plenty written on strategy but substantially less formal research on the topic of ‘being strategic’. UGM argue that 'being strategic' is so difficult to explain partly because it involves a lot of intangible cognitive processes which lead to the creativity required to respond to an increasingly complex business environment.  

So how might you as a director (executive or non-executive) help your organisation to become more strategic? 

UGM, in their article, have four top tips for you;

1. Ensure that your senior employees have at least a basic understanding of systems thinking. A key aspect is the ‘interconnectedness’ of everything.  

2. Involve employees in strategy development, not only strategy implementation. This kind of exposure will help raise the overall strategic capability of your organisation. It means that more people will be 'alert to emergent opportunities' that arise and as a consequence your employees are likely to be more committed to implementation.

3. Use ‘thinking in time’ to help you introduce strategic change that sticks. Your vision for the future focuses effort and energises. Your reflection on the past provides continuity and comfort in the face of change. Your analysis of the present gives clarity of where things are at and what needs to change.

4. Encourage hypothesis driven business activity. Emphasise the enormous value of asking the right question and understand that ‘being strategic’ involves thinking creatively.

See more of UGM's Change and Strategy briefings.

Find out more about our Getting to the C-Suite Leadership Programme, including the module on Leading Strategically.