Learn: Sixth Habit of Strategic Thinkers

strategic thinking habit learn

Our previous blogs explored the role of imperfect and incomplete information in the decision-making process, as well as the need to trust the diversity and creativity of your team in the progression of committing to a new path forward. Even with all that a firm may have done properly up to this point, the decision you make is unlikely to roll out with perfect results. The implementation of each decision will be a reflection of the quality of the work you and your team have done along the way, minding the five preceding habits. As your team adopts the new strategy and real-world results become evident, you will have a critical opportunity to learn what works well and what can be improved upon. Learn is the sixth strategic habit in Paul Schoemaker’s framework. 

In Schoemaker’s words:

As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by. You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial, because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons.
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track.
  • Celebrate both successes and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight.

Here debriefs can be powerful tools. We have participated in a lot of them during our professional lives and in our work with advisors. Generally, when successful implementation has occurred, debriefs are enacted quickly. Success is readily called out, well-earned kudos given, calls to repeat achievements made, and ideas to reinforce what worked well are openly shared. Team members leave these debriefs energized and uplifted by recognized success. 

When implementation has not been as successful as expected, oftentimes debriefs have taken much longer to germinate. We have found that this is definitely the wrong way to go!  It’s understandable that leaders may instinctively want to avoid acknowledging failure. But, doing so will undermine your leadership, your team’s morale, and the organization’s ability to fulfill its purpose.

When expectations are not being met, we advise that you call a debrief as quickly as possible. Why? Your firm doesn’t want to spend unnecessary time, energy, and money pursuing a path that is not working. Continuing further down the wrong path will not suddenly make it right. As we all know, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Your team needs you to step up and face the situation and lead them.  Absent the decision-making team coming together to debrief and give guidance to those implementing the new strategy, team members can only continue to work with a directive that is broken.  They will not know either how to make things right, nor whether they possess the authority to try a new approach. 

Debriefs will allow you to see where in the habit chain improvements can be made: 

  • Could issues being encountered have been anticipated? Where did leadership need to look to see them? 
  • Was the assessment of their importance accurate? Whose viewpoint would have helped to shed light on this? Did everyone on the team share what was on their minds, including honest concerns? Did leadership hear opposing points of view?
  • Is the decision truly appropriate for your firm? For your clients? For your team? With the benefit of hindsight, does your interpretation need to change?
  • Did your team put too little or too much time into analysis? Was creativity invited into the process? Did instinct and intuition have a seat at the table? What have you learned during the process that would cause you to do it differently?
  • Was everyone truly onboard with the decision once it was made? Did your team understand how their role would support it and contribute to its success?
  • How open and frequent are the debriefs you are conducting? What can be improved upon in this phase of the process? Are you ready to pivot? What do you need to begin your pivot now?

Once you have examined where things can be improved and have initiated a new course, commit to revisiting your entire strategic planning process. Document the steps you take, who you involve, the actions you engage in along the way. Your next strategic planning process will be better for it.

Strategic thinking – and the planning that emerges from it – is a learnable skill that should be developed among all members of your leadership team, if not your entire firm. Most employees want to make a strategic contribution to the company. Develop these six habits in your personnel to give them the greatest opportunity to make a difference. Knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that their voice matters, will foster truly engaged employees who will take you and your firm further than you may have ever imagined. 

What are your reactions related to the closing thoughts on this series? Do you have regular debrief meetings to ensure your strategies are appropriate and on track? What are the different ways in which employees demonstrate their strategic orientation? What is the most memorable lesson you have learned from a debrief? How has it influenced your approach to leadership?