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What’s the difference between “strategic thinking” versus… well…just plain thinking? At first glance there might not appear to be any real difference, perhaps just a slight of hand on my part, right? But when you dig a little deeper you might begin to notice that there is a difference; in some cases a huge difference.
Everyone…thinks! While it might not look like most humans think, they do. It takes some level of thinking to determine what clothes you will wear, what to eat for lunch and what route to drive to and from work each day. For many of our daily decisions, just a little normal brainwork can solve many of our daily needs.
However, when we begin to realize that there are some decisions made that yield better results or increase the productivity of our own efforts or those of others, we begin to recognize that a little more exercising of the “gray matter” can result in better results.
The founder and great entrepreneur Henry Ford was quoted as saying,
Thinking is the hardest work there is –
Which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.
Whoa! Talk about your black-and-white opinion. But let’s look at some thoughts about how to become a strategic thinker. I’ve found several disciplines or practices that some of the best strategic thinkers I know have conditioned themselves to follow.
1. Be Inquisitive
Most contractors I know and work with have always impressed me with their level of interest in the odd issues or new challenges. Rather than run from such items they view them as opportunities to learn. In many ways they almost anticipate new opportunities -- daily -- and relish the learning that almost always delivers.
To facilitate your inquisitive side of thinking:
- Don’t say “No” too early. Be patient and “let the game come to you.”
- Look outside the norm when you are considering actions or needed decisions. Test tradition.
- Be open to new information or technology, which might just be a game changer for your future.
2. Think “Outside the Box”
Traditions are fine and can be helpful. However, strategic thinking forces you to not rely solely on the past. You might have heard the old expression, “If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you always got!”
To facilitate “Outside the Box” thinking:
- When challenges and problems do arise, don’t seek the “band-aid” first. Work hard to truly understand the root cause to an opportunity.
- Give yourself, and your team members, permission to question the status quo and the what “we’ve always done around here” thinking.
- When decisions are made too quickly, ask “Why?” one more time to flush out any straggling ideas or suggestions that others, including you, might not have been quick enough to serve up.
3. Seek to Understand Before Being Understood
I’m borrowing this from Stephen Covey, a great author and thinker himself. It is critical to strategic thinking that one gathers input and insights from others, especially those who might be considered “different” or “out there.” Those “out there” thinkers can offer up some juicy insights that just might be what you need.
To facilitate seeking what others might be thinking:
- Promote a work culture that says it’s OK to offer an off-the-wall idea or piece of information.
- Rather than looking for that perfect answer move your understanding to looking for similar “trends” in thoughts, results, or experiences to help validate what someone might be sharing with you.
- Be the first to question the status quo. Set the example for testing the many ideas or suggestions to see what one item might hold the most water in regard to truth, accuracy, and consistency.
4. Commit to “D-Day”
As an amateur World War II historian, I am still amazed at the strategic thinking and planning executed before the D-Day launch onto the beaches at Normandy, France. But when the final plans had been made and even with the final delay due to the poor weather conditions, “Ike” and team made their commitment and D-Day saw its bloody but needed landing.
Contractors must also think, strategically, and plan. But in the end they must be willing to commit and “launch” their best laid plans and make “Decision-Day” happen.
To facilitate your commitment to make the final “D-Day” happen:
- Put in place the steps needed to support your decision. Normally, the bigger the decision, the greater number of action steps.
- Truly assess and weigh your “intel” about the Who, What, Where, When and Why.
- Realize that “time is money” and move forward. Certainly don’t make a blind and uninformed decision, but remember: you’ll never have 100% of the helpful information anyway.
- Remember that “speed” is still the name of the game for contractors. Reacting faster is actually enhanced the more regular updates and accurate intelligence you can maintain.
5. Think Peyton Manning
Few professional quarterbacks can equal the preparation, work ethic, studying and execution of the great Peyton Manning. Love or hate him, Manning is simply the best at approaching the line of scrimmage, quickly assessing the defense and adjusting to a better play if needed. But Manning’s apparent “speed” and confidence in performing is due in great measure to his amount of pre-game strategic preparation. When you’re ready…you are confident -- and faster in making tough decisions.
To facilitate a more “Peyton Manning-like” approach to strategic thinking:
- Hunger for all of the outside-the-company knowledge you can muster.
- Realize that things in construction will change. Prepare for those changes by considering two or three options for any one major decision…then “audible” if you see the wrong defense preventing your initial decision from being successful.
- What looks like deciding “on the fly” is more likely the contractor who has spent long hours looking and considering costs, people, customer feedback and experience all rolled together to make the better and best decision from the options that were truly available.
6. Creating a Never-ending Learning Culture
Don’t laugh…this is very likely aimed at you! The more you accept the fact that you do not know everything in the world, and the more you empower your staff to think out loud, the sooner you will create a work environment that has employees loving what they do and loving you! Growing your company, keeping the doors open for a critical exchange of ideas and solutions is key to being successful.
To facilitate the “never-ending learning culture”:
- Ask for input and don’t criticize brainstormed ideas…ever!
- When you are wrong, admit it quickly and “audible” to another play.
- When your team “wins” be sure to party with those who contributed.
- Survey your entire company annually and ask for ideas and solutions to old issues and new challenges.
7. Build Team Consensus…From the Bottom Up!
Often team consensus begins at the top and then permeates down into the rank and file. WRONG! Real team consensus can begin with any idea from any level of your company, but you always need to grow the consensus from those who are going to execute the decision or strategy up the chain of command. The more buy-in you get at the lower levels of the company the more likely that a 100% effort will be exerted and commitment will run till the last breath is taken.
To facilitate building your team consensus:
- Clearly recognize “what’s in for me” (WIIFM) thinking and acknowledge the important needs of others.
- Tough decisions require serious discussions. Risk differences of opinions but always steer the building toward a positive end result.
- Don’t dodge any topic, issue or idea. Trust your people to hammer out their differences.
- Teach your team members, at all levels, to argue constructively, without throwing tools at one another.
As Henry Ford said, thinking is tough to do. Strategic thinking requires even more energy, focus and staying power. Prevent egos -- especially the “old traditional” brains on your team and the “young college kids” who have never constructed before -- from getting in the way of sound strategic thinking. We need everyone to realize and live the culture that when we work together…great things happen.
I have a great plaque on my desk that was given to me years ago. It reads,
You think education is expensive…try ignorance!
A companion plaque for strategic thinking might read…
If you think workers thinking is costly…
consider workers who don’t think! YIKES!
Well, I think you get the point. Thinking does take time; strategic thinking requires discipline in your thinking process. Hopefully this article has inspired you to visit with your troops, challenging them to get out of their own shells. Remember, if you will set the example and prepare the table for greater thinking, you will become a more strategic thinker while you create an entirely new culture of better thinkers.
Look for greater results and profits by raising your strategically leveraged thinkers in your company!
© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™