Building Your Strategic Mindset

Strategy is one of those important business concepts that many cannot recognize, develop or implement, yet businesses that endure have mastered.

“Growth” is not a strategy, nor is “increase profits.” Those are goals or objectives. Strategy describes the boundaries, priorities and activities within which those will be achieved.

For example, a growth goal may have a supporting strategy of selling more to current customers, expanding geographically or into adjacent markets, or reliable introduction of new products that deliver more value to the the current market. Or, obviously, many other intentions.

It is common to share goals and objectives throughout the organization, if only in general terms. It is much less common to share strategies. That, my friend, is a trait of failure.

Any viable strategy includes insights from up, down, and across the organization, as well as from all five of the company’s constituencies. Execution of any strategy requires comprehension of its intent and constraints up, down, and across the organization — plus the resources required.

Any employee or business constituent who does not understand the strategy at some level and recognize his role in implementing it successfully cannot be expected to act consistently with it.

If you’re asking “what was he thinking?” chances are he was thinking about how best to do his job with the information at hand. Strategy awareness and comprehension of how his actions and decisions impact its execution is as fundamental to success as is how to enter an order or label a package.

How do you build that strategic mindset throughout your organization?

First, build your own strategic thinking muscles. Titles don’t convey skills. A CEO cannot, by mere acceptance of the title, think strategically. A shipping clerk, by mere acceptance of the title, is not limited in thinking strategically. A strategic mindset takes awareness, practice, development, discipline, and challenge.

Next, as you talk with employees, regularly ask “how does this support the strategy?” Or “how does the strategy impact how you think about that?”

Every act and decision by every employee is implementing the strategy, or not. Strategy is not an enacted by a group of leaders in a conference room. They will certainly discuss it, and challenges and opportunities to it that have arisen, but they cannot implement it alone.

Connecting actions and decisions with the strategy is an ongoing responsibility of leadership. As the strategic mindset muscle is built throughout the organization, that responsibility permeates the entire business.

Do not assume everyone knows or understands the strategy, or how it impacts their work. Do not present a PowerPoint of the strategy at a town hall meeting, and believe everyone knows and understands it and how it impacts their work.

Constant communication up, down, and across is integral to developing your strategic mindset. Communication means both listen and talk, augmented by thinking.

A company that can endure over time will build this muscle and keep it healthy.

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