Reaching your potential or just Limping along?

How to bring strategic thinking into your organisation  

Fiona Hathorn, Women on Boards UK                                        October 2018                                                                                                                   

We've all come across those organisations which are, at best, limping along, with employees always under severe pressure and thus never realising their potential. The difference between them and the market leaders is all too often in the quality of their strategic thinking. According to UGM Consulting (UGM) '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 via 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. Good non-executive directors challenge C-Suite executives to do this by prompting them to think out 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. For the first time, this autumn we have opened up this module for one-off bookings as we know many senior leaders desire the clarity on strategic thinking and how to bring it into their organisations.

As UGM point out in their article on '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 the 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 4 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.

For more information on UGM's 'Change and Strategy' briefings consult WOB's resource centre (link).

Based on UGM's insights and ideas above, Women on Boards are running a 1/2 day module on how to ensure you lead and organisation or team strategically, as part of our research-based Getting to the C-Suite programme. Due to the high level of interest in this topic, we are opening up these modules for one-off booking for those unable to commit to the full 6 module programme. For more information on these two modules, dates and timings, click on the links below:

Additionally please do get in touch if you are interested in talking to us about Women on Boards' in-house leadership training.  Women on Boards works with leadership training experts Broadreach and UGM Consulting to help you ensure you have (or are) the 'Leaders You Want'.

Our leadership course, Getting to the C-Suite (information link) was designed by UGM and is delivered by Julie Ashworth and Professor Malcolm McGregor from Broadreach. It is running in autumn 2018 and winter 2019, with select modules available for one-off bookings for the first time. 

Fiona Hathorn
Women on Boards UK
Managing Director