Every strategy you develop is a hypothesis. After all, we can't know the future for sure. Sometimes you're wrong and you can tweak things. Sometimes, you're really wrong and thanks to a major blind spot, a serious problem occurs. Here's how to handle it.
- There's a famous quote by the boxer Mike Tyson: everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth. That kind of sums up strategy, right? You need to have a plan so you can move forward in the right direction and set yourself up for success. If the job you really want requires a master's degree, you need to get into a program and get that degree. It doesn't mean you'll definitely get the position, but if you don't take action, it's certainly not going to happen. All that makes sense. But what if something happens that isn't in the plan at all? What if your company gets acquired and the hiring and promotion system changes, or you get asked to transfer to Singapore, or the company shuts down the entire business line you were working on? A strategy is great and extremely helpful for normal circumstances, and even for war-gaming known possibilities, but when something truly unexpected happens, strategy has its limits.
You didn't plan for this, so what do you do? That's where the real value of strategic thinking lies, because it's not just about fixed plan, it's the ability to think in a strategic way that adapts to changing circumstances. First, people often make the mistake of clinging to past assumptions. The best thing you can do when there's been a disruption is to take an honest look at the circumstances around you, and if your expectations have blown up, admit that so you can quickly move to formulating a new plan.
You don't want to be fixated on past predictions so much that you can't take new data into account. Second, respond decisively. This goes with the first point about clinging to past assumptions. A very dangerous corollary to that is that you're dragging your feet on making needed changes. Of course, you want to gather all the facts and see if your information is correct, but if it is, move as swiftly as you can and don't let the situation worsen in front of your eyes. It's probably not a good idea to dramatically overhaul your strategy in ten minutes, but if a crisis is unfolding, take the steps you can to mitigate things now so you have more options later.
Maybe that's sending out a press release saying you're aware of the situation, or looking into it, and providing initial guidance to employees. Maybe it's reallocating resources on a short-term basis to go where they're most needed. You do what needs to be done. Third and finally, you'll have to embrace improvisation. That may seem like the opposite of strategy, which is planned out and finely wrought. But improvisation doesn't mean coming up with something, anything, and flailing around. It means going back to first principles. In this case, the vision for your organization, or your team, or yourself, and recognizing that if the current strategy no longer works, you can devise another one that will still help you get to your vision.
If you want to be a leader that makes people's lives better, but the program you were working on just got shut down, look around and scan the horizon for other parts of the company that are focused on meaningful initiatives. You look for another path to accomplish your vision. Sometimes strategic thinking means recognizing the limits of a given strategy and being willing to come up with something new that's another, perhaps better, route to your destination.
- Embracing the strategic mindset
- Making time
- Learning from the past
- Getting details right
- Strategic thinking with a team
- Measuring success