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Are you strategic enough?

Most professionals and operational experts have been rewarded throughout their study and experience on the job for their critical analysis skills and the ability to assess risk and offer expert advice.  The more competent the person, the more likely it is they can quickly judge ideas from an implementation perspective.  However, these very skills that have lead to a certain level within their career can begin to fail them as they seek more strategic roles.  Their expert risk analysis and sometimes detailed questions frustrate some others, who can perceive them as negative and too low level.  And yet, some manage to have technical competence and also be deemed strategic thinkers by others.  In over a decade of responsibility for developing future leaders in corporate settings, I began to identify the characteristics that lead senior managers to predict certain people as having the ability to move into strategic roles.  I call this attribute Strategical Savvy.

Strategical Savvy differs from Political Savvy, in that Political Savvy is the ability to connect with the ‘right’ people in an organisation, get involved with high profile projects and events, and be able to say and do the right things to make a positive impression.  Strategical Savvy is more specifically about hearing an idea or suggestion and responding in a way that others can recognise as strategic rather than operational.

To develop Strategical Savvy, you must:

  • Have some knowledge of the trends in business generally and in your industry in particular
  • ask questions that explore how the idea presented might align with key strategies and how they might impact across the whole organisation and its various parts
  • understand how an idea could be implemented in a particular role or task
  • have the personal discipline to refrain from voicing any initial view of the idea too soon
  • respond in a way that indicates that you have heard and understood the strategic implications before considering the specific impacts.

Handling strategic conversations effectively can avoid you being perceived as ‘not strategic’, even when disagreeing with the idea or exploring negative consequences.

 Strategical Savvy can be learnt, just like any other behavioural competency.  Even highly detailed experts can learn to relate to strategic ideas and concepts in ways that allow them to contribute from their area of expertise and still present themselves to others as positive and strategic.

Are You A Strategic Thinker?

Have ever been told you are not a strategic thinker? Is strategic thinking a competency required for your next career step? Are you wanting to align your team’s activities to organisational goals? Are you wanting long-term business or career success? Then it’s probably in your interests to understand how to have, what I call, ‘strategical savvy’.

Although there are a range of models for use in strategic planning, being strategically savvy is more about strategic thinking and conversations. A difficulty with strategic thinking is a lack of consensus of what it actually is. There does seem to be general agreement amongst researchers that:
· Strategic thinking is more important than ever in our increasingly interdependent and global world
· Strategic thinking improves operational decisions and planning
· Strategic thinking involves creative thinking
· Strategic thinking involves systems thinking
· Most people are not strategic thinkers, even if their position title indicates they are, or they think they are.

It’s probably pretty safe to say that strategic thinking in a planning context involves creating a vision and developing a plan to get to the vision. While this may be relevant for high level executives and strategic planners it is not highly useful for professionals and operational managers within organisations. They need a different model because they are rarely responsible for developing the vision or strategic plan, but are often required to contribute to it, comment on initiatives and policies being developed by others, implement strategy they have not been involved in creating or devise policies or processes that have strategic fit. Most of these involve some level of interaction or relationship with strategic thinkers and planners.

When strategic issues are being discussed it easy for operational or professional experts to quickly judge ideas from an implementation perspective. Often these people can quickly and accurately judge operational impacts of strategic ideas but their questions and comments frustrate the strategists who can perceive them as negative and too low level. ‘Strategical savvy’ is about asking the right questions at the right time in order to understand where strategic ideas are coming from and to indicate to others that you have heard and understood the strategic implications before considering the operational impacts. Handling these conversations effectively can avoid others perceiving you as ‘not strategic’.

Just as strategic thinking can be learnt, so can ‘strategical savvy’. Even highly detailed and operational experts can learn to relate to strategic ideas and concepts in ways that allow them to contribute from their area of expertise and still present themselves to others as positive and strategic.

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