Almost all executives complain that they don’t have enough time for strategic thinking. But strategic thinking is one of the key skills required of top executives, and essential for a company to perform well over time.
Can strategic thinking be learned? Professor Miquel Lladó thinks so and gave 10 points to help you incorporate strategic thinking into your daily life.
Blinders off: learn to see what nobody else sees
As a general rule, the frenetic pace of daily life prevents us from taking the broad view. If you’re putting on mental blinders and only looking straight ahead, you’re missing a lot of information along the way. From time to time you have to turn your head to look around. It’s a matter of opening your eyes fully to see more and detect the opportunities missed by others.
Stretch your wings: fly beyond the merely tactical
When you walk, your eyes are fixed on the ground so you don’t trip on objects in your path. This is tactical. Strategy is not about walking, but rather flying, so as to see the bigger picture. When you start working in a company you have to begin by walking, but as you grow within the company you have to learn to fly and develop the ability to see beyond the merely tactical.
Become passionate: enjoy what you do
We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important to enjoy it, to feel proud, to make it worth the effort. You have to want to do what you do: meet with and work with your team, take decisions, imagine the future. If you only do it because someone makes you do it, it will not work.
Take the reins: manage your time and delegate
Time is our most limited resource. Around 58% of directors say that they have to spend time checking up on details that are actually the responsibility of people who report to them. Think about your daily life: how many of the things you do could be done by a member of your team?
In The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander points out that an orchestra director doesn’t make a sound. Like good orchestra directors, executives have to make all the musicians follow the score while adding the finishing touches, but they can’t start actually playing the violin or piano. It’s important to delegate so as to be able to dedicate time to the task of leading.
Trust your team: let it grow
A very important part of strategic planning consists of thinking how to make the company grow, and the company only grows if its people grow. In the words of Zander, the power of a manager lies in his or her ability to make other people powerful. It’s an executive’s responsibility to make the members of his or her team grow, giving them the power to take decisions. Allow your collaborators to share fully in successes.
Don’t be afraid: take decisions
Read, listen and learn — but take your own decisions. There are more than 200,000 books about strategy on Amazon, but the best book on strategy is the one you write yourself with what you do each day. When you take a decision, stick with it. Don’t continually question everything.
Be consumer-centric: center yourself on the client
Amazon, Uber, Google… all go to great lengths to understand the client. Put yourself in the shoes of your clients, live their experiences. If you’re a food company, your work doesn’t end at the shop shelves, it must reach all the way into consumers’ kitchens. This was how Bimbo discovered that kids left the crusts on their plates and decided to launch the sandwich loaf without crusts.
What’s more, when it comes to designing strategy, think about people, not territories. The Africa director for Spanish food producer Gallina Blanca oversees Africa along with two areas in Paris: his market is not Africa, but Africans.
Be flexible: adapt to change
Things move so fast that a strategic plan, once it’s been drafted and printed, already needs revision. Agility is an essential ability for executives. You have to be obstinate in your vision but very flexible with the details of implementation.
Call for the ball: make things happen
In matters of strategy, thinking is important but it isn’t everything: if you don’t do anything with it, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Like the great footballers, you have to call for the ball, not avoid it.
Look ahead: anticipate the future
How much will we sell in the next two months? As a director, it’s your job to know. According to Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, one of the reasons why companies fail is because they lose sight of the future. Do you think that statistics are to be read or to be created? The decision is yours. The companies that win are those that write the future.
Strategic thinking and planning are part of any executive’s job. IESE’s Executive Education programs can help you to face the challenges your company is facing from different perspectives and give you the ability to look at your surroundings and see what others don’t see. Are you ready to anticipate the future?
» BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES
Executive Education Session “El pensamiento estratégico: parte de tu trabajo” (“Strategic thinking: part of your job”). Barcelona, 12 December 2017.
“Make Strategic Thinking Part of Your Job”, by Ron Carucci. Harvard Business Review
This post is also available in: Spanish