Strategic Thinking: How We Continue to Move from Strategic Thinking to Strategic Action
Nelson Soken, Ph.D., Chief Innovation Strategist
(reprinted from the Barnes & Conti Holiday Newsletter, December 2021)
As we close another year and continue to navigate through the pandemic and, we hope, in the New Year move toward the endemic phase, I wanted to share some observations related to virtual learning and the application of Strategic Thinking during this challenging time.
The virtual environment has provided broader opportunities for global leaders and employees to engage with each other beyond the pre-pandemic world of in-person events. Participants who have never or rarely been able to participate in in-person sessions, have been able to engage with colleagues from other business units and countries. Participants are so grateful to have broadened their perspective and now have a larger network. It was wonderful to explore the richness in diversity of ideas and at the same time, examine the commonalities across regions. Recently, we were even introduced to the use of simultaneous interpreters to support Zoom sessions being conducted in multiple languages. What an experience!
Observation #2: From Learning Events to Tackling Critical Business Challenges
We have been working more and more with clients on targeted Strategic Thinking application sessions that have immediate impact on business results and objectives. With our client sponsors, we do business consulting in which we:
- Collaborate on clearly defining and scoping a business challenge to be confronted
- Identify where they can seek to find solutions across the value-chain
- Explore constraints/assumptions that should be considered in solution identification (time-horizon, resources, budget, scope)
- Declare expected results and next-step actions
The organizations we consult with are working on a range of complex problems such as distributor pricing strategies, supply chain issues, and product introductions and launches. Clients report that the structure, concepts, and interactive application activities have provided their teams with an approach to engage collaboratively and have generated insights and actionable next steps for them to explore further and execute on immediately. Results from these sessions included business strategy briefings with senior leadership that led to funding for implementation—identification of specific areas of improvement that can be executed in the upcoming fiscal year to improve profitability, and development of new markets.
Observation #3: Creating Future Leaders through Continuous Learning and Application
Strategic Thinking skills are in demand now more than ever! In addition to workshops, three specific areas that we have recently focused on in collaboration with clients to achieve business results in real-time are:
- Business Challenge Consulting: Working with leadership, we scope specific business challenges to clearly define the problem as it connects to the organization’s current business needs and strategy. This engages the leader in the process directly, creating enthusiasm and tying directly to key business priorities.
- Design Clinic with Coaching: We implemented a series of Design Clinics where teams first work on their sponsor’s challenge applying Strategic Thinking practices. Then, the team meets with the business consultant to share their progress, vet their specific ideas, and receive feedback and coaching about their plans as they move forward.
- Strategic Thinking Tool-kit and Canvas: We created a set of tools to enable ongoing application of strategic thinking with a reusable planning tool to document a plan of action while mapping key questions that must be considered.
Feedback we have received from clients has been positive and many of these programs are being scaled globally. Leaders have been impressed with the quality and breath of the strategic insights of participants and have, in many cases, encouraged participants to pursue the solutions they have identified.
Everyone has been looking for ways to keep engaged and focused on delivering positive business results. Our experience with Strategic Thinking clients has reinforced that creatively facilitating in a virtual environment with necessary supports is critical. Success requires teamwork. The work these past 20+ months has been difficult, but truly rewarding. With all of its challenges, it has been a pleasure to collaborate with people from so many organizations and countries across more time zones than I can count!
It is my hope that we can create a brighter future full of opportunities. The future will require strategic thinking and innovation as we figure out our new normal. Some things may go back to how they were. However, the invaluable lessons we have all learned and the ways we have adapted have created better ways in which we can optimize and continue to grow.