How To Improve Strategic Thinking And Planning For Digital Business

(Credit: Igor Miske on Unsplash) Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash
June 20
4:48 PM 2022

As a business leader, your strategic thinking and planning skills are vital for driving your organisation's profitability, growth, and success. This is particularly true in the complex area of digital business transformation. Such strategic skills are also personally valuable in advancing your leadership career.

However, your strategic thinking and planning skills must be constantly exercised and improved if they are to stay effective.

Elsewhen, an agency specialising in digital transformation, has helped many organisations and their leaders apply strategic thinking to reshape the way they work. During these engagements, a range of ways to improve strategic thinking have been identified.

Make the time for strategic thinking

Perhaps the biggest challenge to your strategic thinking is finding the time to do it at all. When you face so many immediate demands and short-term priorities, it can be hard to gather your thoughts for long-term thinking.

But it is vital to make the time for strategic thinking and planning if you hope to create real lasting improvement for the business.

Try to set aside a regular daily or weekly time slot just for your own strategic thinking. You can be sure that this will be a valuable investment in the future success of your organisation.

To help make time, prioritise your tasks intelligently. Understand which need action now, and which can be placed on hold until a later time or date. Prioritise those tasks that will deliver the biggest benefits today and hold off less significant tasks for tomorrow.

Be open-minded, proactive and ready to take risks

Business people typically face a problem by making assumptions and applying a preconceived solution. 

You may be tempted to take an approach that worked in similar scenarios previously. But remember that the worlds of business and technology are in a continual state of change - so what may have worked before will not ensure a successful outcome today. Be open-minded to new approaches and never trust assumptions unquestioningly.

Remember also that a good strategic thinker is always prepared for what the future may bring. You need to be proactive, take the initiative, and act in anticipation of predicted events.

You should understand that outstanding results rarely come from familiar 'safe' options. As a good strategic thinker, you must be open to new approaches and taking risks based on careful consideration. You will be ready for success or failure, learning valuable lessons from both.

Gather intelligence and keep learning

To fuel and refine your strategic thinking, you should be ready to undertake and promote continuous self-development and learning.

You will expose your mind to new insights, data and trends from a wide range of sources - colleague discussions, reports, news, events, networking and more.

Always be on the alert for patterns and trends in what you discover. Aligning with the next big trends and differentiating your business from rivals are vital goals for strategic thinkers.

Generate, evaluate and optimise new ideas

Strategic thinkers must be skilled in 'ideation' - the generation, evaluation and improvement of business ideas.

Your ideas must form a critical element of your strategic thinking. While ideas may come from your own mind, you can boost your idea production and variety by brainstorming with colleagues.

Not all your ideas will be great, or even worth developing. You need to evaluate and rank ideas for their potential business impact. One good framework for this is to score each idea out of 10 for the potential improvement delivered, the relative importance of the outcome to your business, and the ease of implementation. The total of these three scores for each idea will indicate its likely potential for further development.

Be ready to refine your ideas over time - and to optimise any aspects of processes and projects you encounter in your organisation. The strategic thinker is always on the lookout for better ways of doing things, being both adaptable and ambitious in everything they do.

Understand the benefits of strategic planning

With your ideas prioritised, you can apply planning to develop them into strategies. 

You will consider all the main factors that could influence the success of your ideas. This will include business and market factors such as the needs of your business, employees and customers. It may also include wider external factors such as forces of change in society, economy, politics and technology. 

To evaluate your strategic planning, you should subject your strategy to regular analysis using proven frameworks such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

Recognise and overcome your biases

As experts in human psychology will tell you, we all suffer from bias in our thinking. This includes confirmation bias toward our preconceived beliefs, hindsight bias that past events were predictable, and so on.

As a strategic thinker, you must learn to recognise and accept these cognitive biases in yourself and others.

You should be sufficiently self-aware to consider and question your own thinking processes. You should also reflect on whether your perspective is realistic, and what other points of view you should perhaps have considered.

By acknowledging that your thoughts and ideas can be naturally flawed, you will be more ready to query the accuracy of information. You can also side-step biases to 'think outside the box' with new approaches.

Listen carefully to your stakeholders

Accepting that your own ideas should be challenged, you should listen actively to the viewpoints, feedback, advice and experiences of other stakeholders across your organisation.

Each team member may have valuable insights you should hear.. By developing better listening skills, you will encourage colleagues to share their insights. This creates a business culture where everyone can make their strategic contribution.

You should listen attentively, be open-minded and recognise your biases. Then carefully evaluate what you have heard to identify the most valuable insights. By garnering responses to your ideas and examining criticisms, you will make your strategic plans more robust and resilient.

Ask the right questions

As a strategic thinker, you should question everything in a constructive way so you can see ideas more objectively. 

Even if an idea or thought process is widely accepted as the norm, it should not be exempt from being questioned. Only questioning the status quo will enable change and improvement.

For instance, you should question whether each idea is rational, if information is credible, which assumptions are involved, and what proof exists for an opinion.

Consider the options and consequences of decisions

No strategic thinker should believe their ideas will always be correct. By understanding contrary ideas and opposite opinions, you can build your strategic thinking abilities and gain a broader view of the situation.

Develop a more holistic and strategic overview of your ideas and plans by opening up to other arguments than your own.

Once you have considered all sides of the strategy, you should think about the possible consequences of each decision. Examining the potential impacts of different options with a critical lens is vital for sound decision-making. You should assess what results will best align with your organisation's strategic objectives.

Start improving your strategic thinking and planning

To summarise, by following the above strategic thinking suggestions, you can improve your strategic thinking and planning - to deliver better outcomes across your business operations and change initiatives, such as digital transformation.

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