After carefully studying Strategic Thinking and strategically successful people, I have found that these people see their organization and the business environment differently than most people.
For instance, they have an excellent grasp of what they are working to accomplish and how they contribute to the organization long term.
They also possess a clear sense of their talents and abilities, as well as the resources they have to work with. These people seek out feedback and strive to learn from others.
But their most valuable trait is their ability to conceptualize in their mind who their “customer” is. In fact, they see a whole network of customers, both internal and external to the organization.
Because they know who their customers are, strategic thinkers are focused on satisfying their customers’ short- and long-term needs. This requires the ability to think broadly and into the future.
It also requires the ability to think about how you want to position yourself in your customers’ minds, how you want to stand out from other options they have to choose from to meet their immediate, sometimes burning needs, and their long-term, mostly unarticulated wants.
In some ways, these strategically successful people are like a company, only they are a company of one within the company (or team, department, business unit, etc.). Having a clear picture of who it is that you are in business to serve brings a healthy balance to your approach to work.
This way of thinking creates more alignment between you and the rest of the organization. Decision making becomes easier because you can evaluate decisions based on strategic direction or goals. In short, you work smarter, have greater impact as you deliver your services to the customer, and add value in distinctive ways that helps grow the business.
The key to all of this, of course, is to make sure that your capabilities are relevant to the needs of internal and external customers. Your success now, and in the future, is linked to their success. Strategic thinkers and leaders must understand this concept and reinforce the connection in the customers’ minds. Hopefully every customer will see you as the preferred solution to their needs, goals, priorities, and problems.
Creating a partnership with your customers comes by listening to, talking with, and observing them. Too many of us get irritated by our customers. We complain about them and struggle for more respect and appreciation for what we do for them.
This paradigm will limit your strategic outlook. Being truly customer-centered, seeing the big picture, and having a strategic point-of-view, regarding your work and contribution, is what it takes to be a strategic force in today’s competitive world.
Strategic people understand that in order to be relevant and vital to the organization, you must supply your internal and external customers with a reason to want you around and not out-source your services. Once again, you have to be seen as different, special, and value-added by your customers and stakeholders.
To do so requires strategically positioning yourself, your team, and the group’s capability profile. Unfortunately, what keeps people from being able to shift into this strategic frame of mind with an eye on the customer is when we slip into the “coma” of operational thinking. The “coma” begins when you trap yourself by performing and focusing only on your routine activities, all-the-while trying to survive from one high-pressure assignment or crisis to the next.
Numerous comatose professionals learn to work very hard and become proficient at putting out fires. In fact, many people study and learn their profession better than anyone else, but fail to have much of an impact because they become trapped and enamored with their knowledge of a narrow field of expertise.
In far too many cases, they end up becoming irrelevant to the business and fall by the wayside. A strategic thinker, on the other hand, is able to look at how they can make an important and relevant contribution to the organization and their customers. When a person or team can see what is truly expected and valued, they begin to move themselves into a position that makes a significant strategic contribution over the long term.
The danger is getting complacent by focusing on short-term tactical issues. This causes you to remain in a reactive, problem-solving mode that creates artificial limits on yourself and your strategic capabilities. To move into a more strategic role, you have to step back from the action.
You can’t allow yourself to think that customer satisfaction now will lead to customer satisfaction in the future. You have to start looking for cues in the environment that signal the bigger opportunity trends and transformations occurring around you. You have to ask yourself tough questions about your ability to thrive long-term. Start by simply reflecting on questions like the following:
- What are the possible changes that would upset today’s status quo and change the rules of the game for you, your work, and/or your customers?
- What will render you irrelevant to your customers tomorrow?
- How will you add value to your customers so that your capabilities don’t become obsolete, out-sourced, too expensive, etc.?
- How can you and your team be a force for positive change in your field to ensure that you will be in business and needed by the organization?
- Where is your company going?
- What strategic imperatives are critical to the company’s success?
- What challenges will the company face in the future?
Strategic thinkers broaden their perspective, skills, and relationships, and avoid irrelevance, substitutes, or obsolescence. They understand the business and how to serve and contribute in a meaningful way—not just perform efficiently.
It is easy to feel satisfied with short-term performance and proficiency and fail to adapt, stand out, capitalize on opportunities, and transform ourselves to meet the future requirements of our customers. Don’t misunderstand my meaning—those who fail to grasp the strategic perspective are not bad people. They are simply not accustomed to thinking ahead and will eventually suffer the consequences of failing to anticipate.
Do not be afraid to shift your perspective to one that is forward-looking. Work at it each day and imagine the possibilities that can unfold as you take on the future, deliberately focus on your customers’ needs, and be an agent for strategic change. If you don’t proactively lay groundwork for tomorrow’s opportunities and solutions today, who will?