How to Develop Strategic Thinking
Simon Sinek was hardly the first to emphasize the importance of asking “why?” but he’s likely monetized it better than anyone else. In his book Start With Why Sinek described the powerful impact that defining clearly why your company exists can have.
If you questioned it then, emerging from the pandemic has made the point even more cogent. People took the last 18 months to re-evaluate all aspects of their lives. Those who assumed you must take a job you don’t like because it offers more money or better benefits began to question that. Many have simply quit, looking for something that will bring more joy while meeting Maslowian needs.
In my soon-to-be-published book, Manufacturing Mastery: The Path to Building Successful and Enduring Manufacturing Businesses, I invest a full chapter discussing how meaningful mission, vision, and core-values are requirements of enduring organizations, and how to differentiate inward and outward facing drivers. If few were willing to sacrifice health and happiness so an owner could make more money, only the desperate will now. As parents want to leave their children with an improved standard of living, most adults want to leave the world a better place. They will support your organization with energy and creativity when they find your company’s mission both sincere and one that generates passion within them.
A mission that matters will help you attract the partners that building an enduring business needs. It can also teach those involved with your company how to think strategically. Here’s how:
Constantly ask “why?” of your customers, suppliers, employees, investors, and the community at large. I see pages of project plans detailing actions with no clear reasoning behind them. Why is this action worth your time? How does it help move our organization toward our mission? How does it help our constituencies? When will they feel the benefit? Why is this the best use of our limited resources?
Top-down strategy is rarely implemented well. Replacing it with a bi-directional process that adds clear line-of-sight between the strategic priorities of each level of the organization provides a means for all involved to think more clearly. Everyone can make better decisions because nothing is just a check-box item; everything is related to enabling a higher-level capability which in turn implements the strategy which in turn moves us closer to the mission. If they care about the mission and they can see how what they are doing moves us closer, you’ll get their best thinking. And your employees will grow along the way.
“Because I said so” may work at home, but it should rarely be said to any constituency of your business. A healthy strategic process continuously provides line-of-sight reasoning as things change and people move around. It provides the environment in which people can intelligently challenge and make good suggestions and decisions. By asking the “why?” question you’ll teach your team to think more strategically, to focus on outcomes instead of actions, and as you do that, make progress toward your mission.
And isn’t that why you’re in business?