Creating Strategy and Being Strategic Aren’t the Same Thing

There’s a regular conversation in the human resources community about the profession being a strategic business partner. In thinking about becoming more strategic, it occurred to me there’s a difference between creating a strategy and being strategic.  Just because we can create a strategy doesn’t mean we can think strategically.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a strategy is a detailed plan for achieving results. There are many different kinds of strategies – compensation strategies, recruitment strategies, marketing strategies, social media strategies, even strategic plans. 

Thinking strategically means a person is capable of a thought process that allows them to facilitate a dialogue of critical thinking and innovation. There’s a terrific comparison chart on Wikipedia showing the differences between strategic planning and strategic thinking.

This isn’t to say that the two aren’t interrelated. Creating strategy is important for business.  But strategic thinking is a competency that needs to be developed. Jeanne Liedtka penned a fascinating article on the five elements of strategic thinking that really deserves a read. As business professionals, I wonder how much time and emphasis we are placing on these elements:

  1. Systems perspective (i.e. having the ability to see the entire picture)
  2. Intent-focused, which is being able to create a focus for employees to concentrate on the goal.
  3. Intelligent opportunism reminds me of the conversations happening about the opportunity economy and being open to new ideas that are good for business.
  4. Thinking in time refers to the view of referencing the past to create the future. And using the proper analogies to create linkages and anticipate trends.
  5. Lastly, being hypothesis-driven. Yes, the old scientific theory rears its head. Being able to reason and test a hypothesis is key to strategic thinking.

In business, this means we should rely less on gut instinct and more on analytics. We need to shift our focus from a “been there, done that, so I know the answer” to a “been there, know what happened, now apply the learnings to our current situation”. 

I can easily see the value in applying strategic thinking to the challenges I’m working on. Being able to effectively apply our theoretical knowledge and in-the-trenches experience will serve us well. It also raises the question of the best way to educate our future workforce on these competencies.

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