Is strategic thinking only for senior management?


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Last week I was conducting the strategic thinking workshop for a client company, and in the course of it, collected all their questions pertaining to the subject. We had a deluge of great questions, and we worked to answer all of them. Here is one question that always comes up in this program, “Is strategic thinking only for senior management?”

Strategic thinking versus strategic planning

This question normally comes up because we tend to confuse between the two concepts: thinking and planning. Yes, strategic planning is usually the confines of senior management, who will direct lower-level managers to provide information, and from which they will construct the strategic plan for implementation. Strategic thinking, by contrast, is the application of different perspectives to obtain greater clarity of a situation so as to make the right strategic decision. The plan would be the outgrowth of the decision, and if no decision is made, no plan will come forth. Therefore, strategic thinking and strategic planning are elements in the same continuity, although it would have to start with the thinking, followed by the planning.

Everyone has to make a strategic decision

While some people would tend to make more strategic decisions than others, everyone would have to make at least one strategic decision in his/her life. Before we go on, it would be good to define what makes for a strategic decision:

1. it has long-term impact, and

2. there is a large opportunity cost, and

3. it impacts more than just oneself

Notice that this is an AND function, not an OR. Hence, all three determinants would have to be present before a decision is deemed strategic. Looking at this definition, have you made a strategic decision? Sure! Deciding whom to marry is one; deciding to take an overseas assignment is another; in Singapore, buying a car is yet another strategic decision. So many people would obviously have made at least one strategic decision in life, others many more.

Therefore, if everyone has to make a strategic decision, then everyone should be able to think strategically.

Job function and strategic thinking

Are there certain job functions that would require strategic thinking more than others? The answer is obviously yes. But it does not mean that lower-level managers, or managers in non-strategic units, would not have the chance to think strategically. Even deciding what to report to senior management can already have strategic implications. And proposing a new way of doing things so as to increase revenue or reduce cost, is another example of applying strategic thinking. In other words, it really does not matter what your job function is, or your job level is, every level requires strategic thinking.

It is a matter of whether you want to apply it or not.

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