We are often asked to help leaders or teams think more strategically as they do their work. It’s not that they don’t do good work, it just lacks the cognitive structure of good strategic analysis that is more likely to lead to great work. We address these requests by co-creating workshops with the clients based on our Strategic Thinking Framework. The framework enunciates a five-step process taking a strategic approach to issues. Here are the steps:
- Step 1 Envision. This step requires framing the problem or challenge and agreeing on how success would look. It also involves coming to grips with current perspectives about the issue based on existing perceptions. Finally, it is the time where all steps in the framework are given time frames for completion.
- Step 2 Investigate. Now it’s time to step back and do two things: (a) analyze the situation presented to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening, and (b) gather all the information — quantitative date and soft feedback — that is needed to explore serious potential options for moving forward.
- Step 3 Imagine. In this step all possibilities are considered and none are rejected. In fact, the leader or team should stretch to think out-of-the-box well beyond the obvious choices. A strength of executive coaching is the energy that clients put into this step with the encouragement of the coach. But, coach or no coach, leaders and teams need to show both their resilience and their learning agility as they surface the less obvious options for moving forward.
- Step 4 Decide. Now it’s time to come forward with a well constructed decision and plan for its implementation, including communications and stakeholder management. Just as the previous step was about expanding possibilities, this step is about narrowing options and getting behind the right approach. It’s also about agreeing on measures by which to gauge progress and success.
- Step 5 Empower. In this step, the new initiative is launched, supported by the resources and authority that will enable it to be successful. Communications are delivered and processes and metrics for ensuring success are formally established.
As you read through these steps, they probably look highly intuitive, even obvious. In a sense they are, as words on paper. But understanding the requirements at each step and keeping everybody, or even a leader’s thought processes, aligned with them is no simple matter. The Myers-Briggs “J’s” will want to move too quickly, not giving each step in the framework the time and consideration it needs for real strategic thinking and action. The “P’s” will want to labor over each step, not holding themselves accountable for moving forward at an urgent pace. The framework thus represents the glue that creates a strategic process, replacing approaches based mainly on work habits and intuition. Using it can drive breakthrough thinking leading to timely execution.