While they certainly related and complementary, thinking strategically and planning strategically are two different concepts.
Let's first consider strategic thinking, which involves viewing your organization from a holistic perspective.
Research has determined that strategic thinking can be explained through seven dimensions:
- A vision of the future
- Strategic formulation and implementation
- Managerial role in making strategies
- Managerial role in implementation
- Strategy making
- Process and outcome
Strategic thinking is extremely effective and a valuable tool, and requires developing skills in creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking. The good news? It's a skill that can be learned.
Steps in building strategic thinking skills:
- Critically examine and evaluate the existing situation. Understand what is being done, if it needs to be done that way, and fight hard against the "we've always done it that way" mentality.
- Look at your business as a holistic system. Strategic thinkers view their businesses as a whole: its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Focus on the future. Strategic thinking is future-oriented. Before considering the viability of ideas, consider their potential contribution to the future of your organization.
- Continuously ask for feedback from your customers. Strategic thinking cannot be effective if done in a vacuum.
- Get realistic data for confirmation. Strategic thinking requires making predictions about the future and forecasts must be realistic. Gather reliable data to justify and confirm your predictions.
- Align your thoughts to your organization. Review your organizational structure to determine if the organization and key leaders are in place to fulfill your vision, otherwise it's a pipe dream.
- Be ready to consider change and unexpected challenges. Flexibility is a critical element of strategic thinking.
Strategic planning, on the other hand, is a continual planning process that relies on strong strategic thinking. When done correctly, strategic planning is not a one-time or annual event. It's an on-going process, reviewed quarterly, that affects the organization's initiatives, plans, and activities.
BOTTOMLINE: Both strategic thinking and strategic planning are important - even vital to your organization - and neither can be ignored.
(TIP: For more on strategic planning, search this blog for "strategic planning" - you'll find dozens of related posts, hints and tips are available to you!)