Perhaps you think it does, but that “plan” might be just the continuation of business as usual.
So contends industrial management consultant Hal Resnick.
Resnick said a strategic plan needs strategic thinking, not transactional thinking, which creates a transactional plan, or status quo thinking, which preserves the status quo.
He defines strategic thinking as the ability to take information from disparate sources and develop new ways of viewing the world, and that leads to new directions.
“Learning to think strategically is considerably more complex than solving a problem, applying processes or implementing a plan,” writes Resnick.
“Strategic thinking is non-linear and non-rational. It requires imagination, a broad perspective, the ability to juggle disparate data points and concepts, and the desire to create a winning solution,” he said.
While strategic thinking can be learned, it more likely is learned through life experiences than in a training seminar, he said.
“It evolves over time, reinforced by mentors, life experience and opportunities to practice,” he said.
Resnick offered four steps to help people and groups shift to what he calls “true strategic thinking.”
To think strategically, people must be willing to use their intuition and imagination. Some techniques include:
• Suspend the urgencies and priorities of the moment. “This is why strategic planning sessions are called ‘retreats’ and conducted in pleasant settings away from the environment that demands tactical thinking,” he said.
• Suspend judgment. “Over time we all come to believe that certain ideas or certain people are ‘right or wrong.’ Preparation includes a willingness to suspend preconceived judgments and allow all thoughts, regardless of the source, to be considered and examined without passing judgment,” Resnick said.
Listen and learn
Techniques for listening and learning include:
• Shift from a judging mindset to a learning mindset. “Do not listen critically based on what does or does not fit your current world view. Listen non-judgmentally, simply to understand,” he said.
• Seek input from outsiders. “Bring in others who have expertise in related areas. Have them describe their own world as it relates to yours. These insights may be technical, geopolitical, legal or regulatory, market or demographic-based,” he wrote, “People in other walks of life see the world through a different lens.”
• Seek examples from other industries and applications. “What do baby rattles and birdseed have in common? They are both sold in grocery store chains, they are both bubble-wrapped and hung on hooks and they sell for about the same price to the same shoppers,” Resnick wrote.
• Look for pioneering “bright spots.” Resnick said companies still grow market share without sacrificing prices and that although customers are increasingly demanding, some companies achieve extraordinary customer satisfaction. “What are these ‘bright spot’ organizations doing differently?” he asks.
• Do not rely solely on your own industry experts. Whether they are internal, external or both, “experts are the very best at doing things the way they are currently done. They are often the most resistant to change,” he said.
• Shift the conversation from debate to discussion and then dialogue. “The goal of debate is to win — there is no learning,” Resnick wrote. “Discussion is a polite exchange where participants take turns talking. Dialogue is learning — both from the other person and from new thoughts and ideas that are collectively developed. The focus is on listening, internalizing what the other person has said and building new ideas together,” he said.
Apply critical analysis
Resnick said that in this phase, the group shifts from a learning mode to critical analysis.”
“It is important to wait until the group is ready for this step because moving into critical analysis too early can restrict the flow of information and lead to debate,” he said. Some techniques that help:
• Agree on the goal and criteria for the solution. “Everyone must share the same desired outcome,” he said. “Otherwise, they are likely to become mired in opinion and shift to positioning and debate.”
• Look for “megatrends” and patterns. “Find where the dots can be connected using both imagination and intuition,” he said. “If patterns challenge existing beliefs, see whether those assumptions can withstand current reality.”
• Develop alternatives. “What are the intended consequences of each strategic alternative? What are the likely unintended consequences?” he asked.
• Ask the Navajo question. “The Navajo Indians considered the impact of their decisions through seven generations. Look to the future — what path will this strategic direction take over time?”
Resnick said that strategic thinking must ultimately lead to decisions. Resnick said to consider the following:
• Attempt to achieve decisions through consensus. “This requires that everyone agree to the common goal and subordinate their personal interests. All voices must be heard and treated with equal respect,” he said. “Decisions are based on facts and analysis, not opinion management. The group must have the courage to challenge anyone who gets stuck in a fixed position.”
• If possible, build a pilot program. “Test the strategy in a partial environment before full implementation,” he said.
• Build an implementation roadmap. Use specific measurements and milestones.
• Select the strategy leader. The leaders should have a supportive team from throughout the organization.
“Strategic thinking naturally flows into strategic planning,” he said.
“Strategic planning without strategic thinking is an exercise that typically supports the natural extension of the current condition. As Einstein said, ‘The problems we face today cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that caused them in the first place,’” he said.