What Level is your Strategic Thinking?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about strategic thinking this month. One of the things that vex me is when people overuse the term “strategic”, as if it is a magic wand that will make something – such as social media marketing – more valuable. While there IS such a thing as “strategic social marketing”, calling it strategic does not make it so.
It’s clear that there is one obvious divide – between strategic and non-strategic – but there are also levels of strategic thinking above the basic level. True strategic thinking involves more than just thinking about what you are going to do next, or how you will do better next year – it’s about the course and direction of your organization. In my mind, good strategic thinking is about balancing current performance with building capabilities for the future. So we can call just thinking about the future “level 0” planning, and the more capability-oriented thinking “level 1” planning.
In the past decade, we’ve been adding a level of strategic thinking which is driven by the concept of strategic competency. Strategic competency is a combination of skills, processes and knowledge which differentiates your organization from your competition in a way that is highly valuable. Strategic thinking about competency creates tremendous and increasing advantages. I think of this as “level 2” strategic thinking – it’s not just the usual, tired SWOT analysis and five forces mumbo jumbo, but rather a new way of thinking that can actually drive a valuable change in strategy.
It seems there is another level above this that some organizations use, sometimes. I haven’t seen anyone do this all the time, and I’m not sure it’s necessary to commit to it every year, but “level 3” strategic thinking is a step beyond “level 2” – in much the same way “level 1” is a step beyond “level 0”. “Level 3” strategic thinking involves thinking not just about competencies, but about how you build your organization’s ability to grow and enhance your strategic competencies. Another way to say this, quite simply, is that “level 3” strategic thinking involves examining how well your organization really learns and builds know-how.
A good question to ask about your own strategic planning is: what level is our strategic thinking? Is most of your plan built around level 0 or level 1 thinking, or do you have some level 2 or 3 thinking in your strategic plan?
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