• Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Is Your Strategic Planning & Strategic Thinking Inclusive?



Great leaders have dreams for a better future – from sustainability to growing organizational talent, increasing business speed, or operating with greater purpose. To turn those dreams into workplace realities, leaders set strategies. Unfortunately, most organizations keep their strategic plans a secret. On average, 95% of employees don't know about or understand their organization's strategies. It is hard to argue that being more inclusive is a bad leadership habit. But, how inclusive should leadership be with strategic planning and thinking?

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” — William Bennis


Definition of a strategy


A strategy stated simply is a plan of action designed to achieve a stated goal. The purpose of a business strategy is to align followers and teams toward achieving a shared goal from the company's vision.

The best strategies in business meet the following criteria:

  • developed inclusive of followers,

  • focus on helping others for the greater good,

  • account for mixed future realities,

  • and are implemented.

In this short video, Gary Hamel discusses why he believes leaders need to shift their role from authors to editors and traditional strategic planning needs to die.





Strategic thinking definition


Leaders must comprehend various complex situations. Strategic thinking uses critical thinking to consider the fundamental business drivers and challenges specific to an organization. It is about awareness of what could be and the foresight to help the organization be successful.


A leader's ability to question and make connections between ideas and evaluate options improves strategic thinking. Strategic thinking involves five leadership competencies often underdeveloped:

  1. Scanning. Looking for weak signals that may not have any immediate bearing on the business.

  2. Visioning. Clarifying the organization's shared purpose and dreams with group benefit.

  3. Reframing. Challenging current assumptions and fresh thinking about future possibilities.

  4. Making common sense. An intellectual process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating data.

  5. Systems thinking. A holistic way to investigate how different parts interrelate and contribute to specific potential outcomes.


The following video breaks down the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking.



Making common sense requires critical thinking skills. Various psychometric leadership assessments can measure an executive's critical thinking capability. The Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA) is a valid leadership assessment based on recognizing assumptions, evaluating arguments, and drawing conclusions. For more information on the Watson-Glaser critical thinking appraisal, visit www.talentlens.com.

In addition to measurement, leaders looking to get better with strategic thinking skills need time for deliberate practice and coaching feedback to shape strategic thinking habits beyond motivation and commitment. Partnering with a qualified executive coach is proven to improve strategic thinking skills.





Benefits of inclusive strategic thinking and planning


Leveraging diversity enhances strategic thinking creativity, engagement, and strategy quality. Although achieving complete transparency and involving every possible stakeholder is questionably feasible, there is high value for inclusive leaders and organizations.


Research has demonstrated a direct positive correlation between individual commitment to strategy and involvement in strategy development. Inclusive strategic thinking impacts the organization's bottom line and leads to a leader's success and significance.


When leaders solicit ideas from others outside the traditionally involved management team, it improves the creativity of the ideas and reinforces that leaders value employees. Creative ideas that reflect the customer's stated and unstated needs likely will come from those with no stake in the status quo and closest to the customer.


Being transparent with access to strategic input and processes enhances follower outputs. When the employees responsible for implementing strategic plans are the same employees contributing, there is increased awareness, engagement, buy-in⁠, and firm performance.


How to be inclusive with strategic planning and thinking


Before taking an inclusive approach to strategic planning and thinking, senior leadership needs to come to an agreement on the process, participating stakeholders, and the organization's business vision, values, and mission.

For larger hybrid organizations, it will likely be helpful to first place participants into groups based on their planned involvement, such as crowd, selected crowd, business leadership, and strategic planning decisions team. When choosing the strategic planning technology, finding a user-friendly system for all stakeholders is vital.


A generic inclusive strategic planning process typically engages others in ideation, refinement, and development.

  • Ideation. The first step is to listen. Stakeholders are invited to submit ideas using a planning platform. It is crucial to select a technology readily accessible and use multiple forms of communication to encourage participation in the strategic planning process.

  • Refinement. Ideas are tagged and compared through comparison sorts. Stakeholders are invited to prioritize the ideas submitted using pre-identified criteria such as culture alignment, cost, quality, and timeliness. This phase also includes a checkpoint for leaders to ask for more information and accept, revise, or reject ideas. The use of scores makes it easier to filter ideas.

  • Development. After collecting and refining the ideas, it is time to transform them into a strategic plan. A strategic plan typically consists of a vision statement, mission statement, goals, objectives, tactics and measures, and a review timeframe.


How to overcome inclusive strategic planning and thinking barriers


Advances in technology enable a more inclusive, timely, and less costly approach. However, an inclusive approach has some potential drawbacks to address rather than ignore, such as bias, agility, and communication effectiveness.

  • Bias. When being inclusive, leaders must avoid potential bias toward certain stakeholder groups. There is no need to go through the work of being inclusive only to have a process that devalues different input based on a tendency toward a particular group's feedback. Approaches that promote anonymity of feedback are demonstrated to reduce bias and not negatively impact output buy-in.

  • Agility. Leaders need to pay attention to time and effort when being inclusive. It is easy to be less agile and get caught in analysis paralysis when being inclusive. Solid project management processes can help leaders avoid the trap of over-analysis.

  • Communication effectiveness. Thoughtfully incorporating technology has many positive impacts, but that does not mean it is without challenges. Numerous research studies have shown that different communication mediums have varying degrees of effectiveness with supporting in-the-moment feedback, information sharing, communication cues, emotions, and customization of the message. It probably goes without needing scientific research to understand that face-to-face communication is the most effective type of communication.

Contact us today if you need help creating compelling and inclusive strategic plans. With a flexible, systematic, and proven method, you can establish robust strategic plans that transform your business to achieve success and significance. Let's talk.





Key Summary Points

  • It is hard to argue that being more inclusive is a bad leadership habit.

  • The purpose of a business strategy is to align followers and teams toward achieving a shared goal from the company's vision.

  • The best strategies are developed inclusive of followers, focus on helping others for the greater good, account for mixed future realities, and are implemented.

  • A leader's ability to question and make connections between ideas and evaluate options improves strategic thinking.

  • Making common sense requires critical thinking skills. Various psychometric leadership assessments can measure an executive's critical thinking capability. The Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA) is a valid leadership assessment based on recognizing assumptions, evaluating arguments, and drawing conclusions.

  • Leaders looking to get better with strategic thinking skills need time for deliberate practice and coaching feedback to shape strategic thinking habits beyond motivation and commitment.

  • A generic inclusive strategic planning process includes engaging others in ideation, refinement, and development.

  • Advances in technology enable a more inclusive, timely, and less costly approach. However, an inclusive approach has some potential drawbacks to address rather than ignore, such as bias, agility, and communication effectiveness.


References:

Amrollahi, A., & Rowlands, B. (2017). Collaborative open strategic planning: A method and case study. Information Technology & People (West Linn, Or.), 30(4), 832-852. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-12-2015-0310


Bennis, W. G. (2008). Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Journal of Property Management, 73(5), 13.


Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. M., & Dinwoodie, D. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization's enduring success. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.


Kaplan RS, Norton DP. The office of strategy management. Harv Bus Rev. 2005 Oct;83(10):72-80


Nwachukwu, C. E., Chladkova, H., & Olatunji, F. (2018). The relationship between employee commitment to strategy implementation and employee satisfaction. Trends Economics and Management, 12(31), 46-56. doi:10.13164/trends.2018.31.45



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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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