A common challenge experienced by many leaders in business is finding time to dedicate towards strategic thinking and planning. A recent article published by the Harvard Business Review cited two interesting statistics regarding leadership and strategic thinking: “In one survey of 10,000 senior leaders, 97% of them said that being strategic was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success. And yet in another study, a full 96% of the leaders surveyed said they lacked the time for strategic thinking.” (Dorie Clark. If Strategy Is So Important, Why Don’t We Make Time for It?. June 2018).
Challenges of Strategic Thinking in the Workplace
As illustrated by the survey results above, when it comes to strategy, the common theme seems to be “easier said than done.” Too often, the word “strategy” invokes overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear, dread, or even a personal sense of inadequacy in our ability to formulate a plan or initiative that will be not only successful, but sustainable. But strategy shouldn’t be a big scary beast that we hide from; neither should we continually procrastinate until we feel like we have more time for our strategic work. The truth of the matter is that we are never going to “have more time.” There is undoubtedly always going to be something with a deadline that is more pressing than the ambiguous “sometime in the near future;” we will always have sudden “fires” to put out. So, if you agree with the 10,000+ senior leaders who believe that strategy is a critical element of organizational success, you need to stop looking for more time and instead just take the time to do some strategic thinking.
Making Time and Thinking Strategically
Working strategic thinking into your daily or weekly routine doesn’t necessarily mean blocking out large chunks of time in your professional schedule. It could be as simple as taking a short walk in the middle of the day to clear your mind from the daily grind and consider longer-term matters. This can also be done during your commute to and from work or during a lunch break. We want to stress that being strategic doesn’t mean that you get to neglect your operational tasks or stop doing the things that must be done each day. However, it does require some discipline on your part to find a way to mentally step back and have a future-focused conversation with yourself or with a mentor, team member, or trusted advisor. Some questions to reflect on could include the following:
- What is working well in the business? How do we support and sustain those things moving forward?
- What is not working well? What improvements can we make?
- Where do we expect to be in the next 2–5 years, and what steps do we need to take to get there given where we are now?
- What are my goals? What are the organization’s goals? Are they in alignment?
- Is there an area of focus that I want to learn more about to open new avenues to success?
- What potential obstacles or internal or external forces might we encounter in the near future? How can we prepare?
It’s easy to get buried by the daily demands, expectations, and pressures of our work. If you factor in the constant influx of emails, meetings, and unplanned interruptions, you may often feel like the time in your work day is flying by—and no “real work” is getting done. CMOE refers to this phenomenon as being consumed by the “operational beast.” We encourage you to do everything in your power to tame that beast, make strategy a priority, and increase your capacity to exchange short-term, low-value tasks that offer immediate rewards for those with longer-term benefits. The future is closer than we think and although it is unpredictable, we can do our best to be ahead of the curve if we take the time to look up from what is directly in front of us and look forward.
For more information or resources on how to “tame the operational beast” and make time for strategy, please visit CMOE’s website and read our article on how to improve your capacity for strategic thinking.
Author Bio: Kelsi Mackay
Kelsi is a Senior Account Manager and valued team member at CMOE. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management with an emphasis in Organizational Development and Human Resources. She is passionate about personal development and values the opportunity she has to enable others in their own learning and development.