Winter 2017
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CTDO Magazine

Is Your Organization Tactical or Strategic?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Creating an enterprise-wide capability in strategic thinking can be the foundation for your company's enduring competitive advantage.

When you consider the biggest threats to your organization's continued success, factors such as disruptive technology, new competitors, and changing market dynamics may all play roles. What is the one skill set that can help your managers effectively address each of those? Strategic thinking.


Unfortunately, a study of 880 managers conducted by the Strategic Thinking Institute found that only 36 percent have a universal definition and consistent understanding of strategy throughout their companies. Why? Nearly 75 percent of managers have not been educated on how to think strategically and don't have practical tools to do so. The failure to think strategically and develop sound strategy is the number one cause of business failure.

Talent leaders are uniquely positioned to help their organizations avoid business failure by developing an enterprise-wide capability in strategic thinking. Strategic thinking can be defined as the ability to generate insights that create new value and lead to competitive advantage. An insight is the combination of two or more pieces of information or data in a unique way that leads to a new approach, solution, or way to deliver value. World-class organizations are now creating "insight networks" to harness their people's best thinking on a continual basis.

Three approaches to strategic thinking

Like any other skill, such as playing the piano or putting in golf, strategic thinking must be practiced to excel. Thinking strategically once a year to develop a strategic plan ensures that the team will be mired in mediocrity and potentially miss game-changing opportunities to grow the business. To transform strategy from an annual two-day pilgrimage into a daily mindset, managers in all areas can apply the three disciplines of strategic thinking:

Acumen (generating new insights that create value).There's a simple but often overlooked premise in business: New growth comes from new thinking. The reason that most managers don't use their plans is because they don't contain any new thinking, making the plans outdated and irrelevant. They rely on the same tired, old tactics year after year and wonder why the business isn't growing.

All great projects, initiatives, and strategies begin with an insight. What new value have you and your team created in the past six months?

Allocation (focusing resources—talent, budget, and time—by making trade-offs). Great strategy is as much about what you choose not to do, as it is about what you choose to do. While everyone has a to-do list, top managers are also crystal clear on the not-to-do list.

In which areas are you and your team not going to spend talent, budget, and time so that you can effectively focus on those few areas where you can deliver the greatest value?


Action (prioritizing the important versus the urgent). One of the greatest causes of frustration for employees is when their leaders have too many priorities and become spread so thin that they aren't able to add significant value to anything. Perhaps the greatest benefit of strategic thinking is clarity of mind—the ability to ride the daily waves of information, emails, and pop-up tasks and then identify the critical few items to focus on for success.

Do your teams have a simple one-page plan to crystallize their thinking and help them stay focused on the important versus the urgent?

The definition of excellence includes deviation from the norm. If your managers are doing the same normal things in the same normal ways as everyone else, they never will excel. Deviating from the norm and excelling begins by applying the three disciplines of strategic thinking.

About the Author

Rich Horwath is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author on strategy. As CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, he leads executive teams through the strategy process and has helped more than 50,000 managers around the world develop their strategic thinking skills. A former chief strategy officer and professor of strategy, Rich brings both real-world experience and practical expertise to help companies build their strategic capabilities. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, and FOX TV, and is recognized in the textbook Strategy in the 21st Century as one of the key contributors in the history of strategic management for his thought leadership in the field of strategic thinking. Rich's innovative work in the field of strategic thinking has created dozens of proprietary offerings, including group workshops, strategy assessments, mobile apps, workbooks, strategic learning management systems, podcasts, videos, and one-to-one strategic coaching. His monthly e-publication, Strategic Thinker, is read by thousands of business leaders and academicians around the world.

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