My last two blogs have been centered on our new Talent Review Process (TRP) at RG Group. This process is in support of our overall Learning and Development department initiatives that strive to recruit, retain and develop the best talent in the industry. Through TRP, we discuss the performance and potential of each employee at RG Group. We evaluate performance based on key performance indicators (KPIs), SMART goals and various metrics. The more subjective evaluation is determining level of potential. Performance is based on what an employee has done already, but potential is based on what he/she can do in the future. To provide guidance on evaluating potential consistently and accurately, we identified a list of skills and behaviors demonstrated by high-potential employees which was discussed in last month’s blog. In that blog I also alluded to our topic this month, which is attempting to define strategic thinking and perspective; this is one of the core competencies of leaders that we are searching for in high-potential employees.
What is strategic thinking?
When we designate a person as being “strategic”, what is that person demonstrating that leads us to that conclusion? Often I hear a strategic person described as a “big-picture thinker”; or not great with details; or as an “ideas person”. Sometimes is feels to me like the description is used an excuse as to why someone doesn’t get things done or misses important details rather than a positive attribute that leads to great results. As I listened to other leaders describe strategic people, I realized that defining strategic thinking needed deeper reflection and research. If strategic thinking is a positive attribute that we need in successful leaders, it needed to be more than about having grandiose ideas or not liking the details.
What is the “big picture?”
For someone to see the “big picture” I believe they need to understand the perspectives of other departments and people. It is easy to consider the impact of decisions on your own department, what about the other departments that you have never worked in? I will give you an example based on my experiences in Human Resources. I have worked with HR professionals that liked to live in the non-existent “black and white” world; they became frustrated when those in operations did not respond to emails in their requested timeframe or submit documents with 100% accuracy. Totally lost on those HR professionals was that the person they were trying to contact didn’t sit at a desk all day and had a lot of other responsibilities other than making sure a box was checked properly. Was it as big of a deal as the HR person was making it out to be? Probably not. The HR professional had lost perspective.
This loss in perspective I think comes down to the ability for individuals to empathize with others or make an attempt to understand the workload and responsibilities of others. It is interesting, as I’ve talked and traveled with employees throughout my career I found that most people believe they are the hardest working people in an organization; when people in other departments do not meet their expectations, they conclude that it is because the other person doesn’t care, is lazy or is bad at his/her job. I honestly believe that the majority of the time this is just not true!
I am not suggesting that we make excuses for people when they are not performing or communicating in a timely manner; what I am suggesting is that we seek to understand the challenges and perspectives of others. We should ask ourselves, how can I best work with that individual? What communication method best suits the realities of that person’s work environment and also gets me the information I need when I need it? Considering the business impact of the request I am making, what is the priority level and appropriate response expectation for the other person? Is it as big of a deal as I think it is in relation to the impact on the broader scope of the business?
On the flip side, people in operations or sales (for example) need to reflect on their actions and decisions as well. In the course of making a decision, have you involved people in various departments that are impacted by your decision? When you don’t respond to a request in a timely manner, how does that impact the business outside of your personal silo? What frustrations, challenges and risks are you creating by not involving certain people in decisions, not responding to their requests in a timely manner or following policies and procedures?
These are small scale examples, but I think they point to the daily considerations that someone can reflect and act on to be considered by others as a person with strategic perspective.
Essentially, we cannot understand the big picture if we do not collaborate with others in that picture. If I only speak with HR professionals, how can I really understand the business and make good, sound, strategic decisions? I can’t. Each of us bring a certain set of skills and expertise and we need to respect the same in others; we need to make sure we are involving others in the decisions that impact them by listening to the expertise and perspective that they can provide.
In my blog last month, I quoted this article and I will do so again in case you missed it because it sums up what I am getting at:
The Center for Applied Research gives the following definition of strategic thinking: “Strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value by enabling a provocative and creative dialogue among people who can affect a company’s direction”.
In other words, you can’t really think strategically without considering others — without them, there would be no need to strategize; there would just be you and your opinion, your way of seeing the world, which is why it is considered an interpersonal skill.
Building Strategic Thinking Skills
Often we consider strategic thinking as a skill that some people just have and others do not have based on their natural abilities. That may be true to some degree, but like most skills, you can build your expertise by practicing certain behaviors. Forbes wrote a great article that simplifies the steps to master strategic thinking and highlights the themes I discuss in this blog; fundamentally that it is all about the people.
The four steps from this article are paraphrased below:
- Understand alignment. This step focuses on getting outside of your silo by considering the impact of your decisions on other departments. It also includes understanding your work environment, markets and economy to make good decisions for the future.
- Shed your department skin. Stop pointing the finger at other departments! Nothing frustrates me more than when I see a leader focused more on blaming another department than finding a solution. We are all on the same team and need to act as such.
- Make friends with others. Build relationships with people in other departments to improve your knowledge of the entire organization.
- Think of strategic thinking as putting a puzzle together. Each project you work on is like a puzzle; when you understand the entire organization and the people in it, you see how each piece fits together and how a missing piece impacts the entire puzzle.
Perhaps as you read through my blog series you identified some areas for personal growth and development. You may also have career aspirations to do more than you are currently doing but are unsure of how to achieve your next step. One of the great tools available to anyone that fits the above description is an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Writing an effective plan is challenging however, particularly if it is your first time. So, in my blog next month, I will discuss how to write a great Individual Development Plan to support your goals and aspirations!