Strategic thinking may be the most important leadership skill in today’s uncertain, rapidly changing world. Yet, despite the importance of thinking strategically, a lack of time often gets in the way — and busy CLOs are no exception. With the pressures of a fast-paced world, the natural default is to focus on short-term execution. However, being more strategic isn’t more time-consuming — it can actually save time in the long run. The following four habits to become more strategic can help you manage your time:
Solve the right problem: Many people rush into problem-solving before taking the time to make sure they’re approaching it from the right angle. For example, we once worked with a client who had trouble getting the team to execute his strategy. He believed it was because they simply didn’t understand it, so he focused on improving the communication plan. Yet, after stepping back and re-examining the problem for the root cause, he realized the real problem was misaligned incentives, which led to a completely different solution set. Taking the time to frame a problem from several angles takes a little longer upfront but can save significant time and headaches in the future.
Plan with the end in mind: Make sure you align around exactly what success looks like so you can chart the right course to get there. We’ve all seen projects where the goal is a moving target or the mission is not clear, so the work needs to be constantly adjusted or redone to meet evolving needs. For instance, developing an organizational talent strategy can lead to inefficiencies without planning. If the target capabilities and business outcomes aren’t fully defined, the process can take much longer than expected to accommodate constant shifts in scope and intention. Collectively defining success upfront can save real time reworking solutions to meet vague or misaligned expectations.
Include diverse perspectives to spark ideas and surface risks: Listening to diverse views when shaping a learning strategy and prioritizing decisions helps to spark new ideas and identify risks you may have missed. Diverse views can come from many sources, such as colleagues in other departments or functions, or from external stakeholders, such as internal customers, business partners or outside consultants. But getting diverse input doesn’t need to be tedious.For example, instead of inviting everyone to a face-to-face meeting, consider shooting off an email inviting virtual feedback at key milestones, or ask for quick input when chatting with a customer or stakeholder.Adding a few additional perspectives isn’t time-consuming and can significantly improve collective thinking and outcomes.
Capture learnings and act on them quickly: While most people realize the value of learning from experience, few do it regularly and systematically. Doing so can prevent repeat mistakes and institutionalize best practices or lessons learned for organizational benefit. A great way to capture learning is to consistently and immediately employ after-action reviews, or learning checks, with your team. Make a habit of setting up regular checkpoints after key milestones, making them an integral part of the work routine so they don’t get squeezed off the calendar.
Formally document lessons learned from these reviews, referring back to them regularly, especially at the start of similar future projects, and share learning with other teams, too, to spread the learning across the organization. This can take the form of a brown-bag lunch coupled with a briefing document, for instance. Engineers Without Borders, set up a website (admittingfailure.com) for lessons learned, allowing even the general public to benefit from their collective wisdom. Making learning a team habit takes just a few extra hours per quarter but can be a huge time-saver overall by heading off avoidable mistakes.
Strategic thinking can be honed with regular practice and habit-building. Although it requires a bit of time upfront, it actually saves significant time in the long run as these practices become ingrained into the work routine. After all, truly strategic leadership requires broader thinking and sometimes making short-term trade-offs to ultimately win long term.
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