Strategic thinking is an ongoing process that involves regular audits, as well as a savvy recognition of when to focus and when to change course to seize opportunities.
- You have failed yourself if you do strategic thinking once, set a course, and blindly keep at it forever. Circumstances change, and you may end up steering yourself wildly off course. But at the opposite end of the spectrum, you've also failed yourself if you can't reliably follow through on your strategy and fall victim to shiny object syndrome, constantly jumping from one thing to the next, following idle whims. How do you balance the two? How can you make strategic thinking, a smart interrogation of your current circumstances, a way of life? Remember, it's important to regularly audit your strategy, to set up milestones in advance, let's say every quarter, and check in to see how things are progressing and whether results are living up to your expectations or might warrant some changes.
The general rule, though, is that if you've taken the time to create a thoughtful strategy, you should stick with it unless there's a clear and urgent reason not to. Here are the questions to ask yourself to figure out if that's the case. Are you failing to meet your initial expectations? This is the most obvious case where a change in strategy might be warranted. You thought 200 people would sign up for the program, and only 15 did. You shouldn't scrap things immediately. It's important not to rush to conclusions. But first, look at the tactics you used.
Maybe the marketing wasn't affective, for instance. But if you investigate and everything else checks out, maybe the initial premise was flawed, and you need to change your strategy and offer a different program instead. Has there been a major change in circumstances? Sometimes, big, unexpected things happen, and we have to adapt to the repercussions. Your strategy may have involved focusing on a particular line of business because your biggest client was going to sign a huge contract. But when your buyer, the person you knew best and your biggest advocate, decided to leave her position, that sure thing contract suddenly blew up.
That's a time to change strategy. Maybe you were going to expand into a new country, and they just experienced a military coup. Probably not the best time to go there. Or you were going to develop a new corporate campus and consolidate all your regional offices, just in time for an economic slowdown that makes it much harder to borrow the construction funds you need. If there's a big development inside your organization or your client's, or even socio-politically, that may warrant a strategy redo.
Is there an alternative that's even more promising? This is the place where you're most likely to experience shiny object syndrome, chasing the exciting new thing, so you have to watch yourself carefully here. Let's imagine that expectations have generally been met with your initial strategy, and there hasn't been a major change in circumstances. No military coups, no unforeseen staffing changes. So what could prompt you to abandon a plan that's working reasonably well? Hopefully not much.
The only correct answer is something that provides you with a far greater probability for growth and success than the path you're already pursuing. Note that I said probability, not possibility. It needs to be very likely. Now, it's easy to get excited about a new opportunity and convince yourself that this is the right path, because it's new and different. It's possible you might discover something that really is better, that's almost certain to generate 20% growth when you're getting 10% growth now, for instance.
But don't delude yourself into thinking you can pursue both opportunities at the same time equally well. If you're truly convinced, run a small test first, to see if your hypothesis pans out, and don't rush into anything without consulting with trusted colleagues and advisors. The bar needs to be very high when you're switching away from a strategy that's already working. Sometimes you do need to change your strategy, but to be effective, you should do it sparingly and strategically.
- Embracing the strategic mindset
- Making time
- Learning from the past
- Getting details right
- Strategic thinking with a team
- Measuring success