Strategic-ThinkingThis is part 5 in a series of small business leadership posts. 

Part 4 in our previous post covered being a role model for your employees.

As a small business owner you are at the helm of your own “ship” every day. It is your responsibility to know where you are going and the best, safest, and most efficient way to get there. Your “crew” depends on you to have a 360-degree view of the destination and, should trouble arise, have the right plan and solution to stay the course. Your ability to think strategically and communicate your thoughts clearly provides the guidance and expectations employees need to be productive contributors to the success of your organization. It also gives them a sense of safety and security research tells us are key components of employee satisfaction.

Strategic thinking is an organized approach to goal achievement. It starts with developing a vision or view of what you want for your business, followed by simple and precise action steps to get you there. You will use it in everyday situations such as addressing a client complaint or in more complex situations such as market expansion, staff development or capacity planning.

Strategic thinking is a powerful leadership skill and it is easier than you might think to master it. Follow the simple steps below.

Step 1: Create a vision. A vision is a clear view of what is desired and possible. It can be applied to almost any project or situation no matter how big or small. Start by identifying exactly what you want. For instance, your vision for handling a customer complaint might be to resolve the issue and retain the client. For planning, it might be a list of goals to reach by a specific deadline.

Step 2:  Assess the situation. Identify the current status or situation. In this step you clarify the facts of the situation or circumstances. In the customer complaint example, it could be the client did not receive their service on time and have registered a complaint. In capacity planning it might be that you have capacity for X, yet Y (a greater number) is in production.

Step 3: Identify actions and timelines. Now, identify what action will help you to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. In the case of the customer complaint you may decide you need to 1) contact the client, 2) apologize for the late service, and 3) offer a new date of service with a discount. In capacity planning you might need to 1)  add two staff members,  2) extend work hours, and 3) slow or extend delivery time on incoming orders to manage the additional work load. Make sure each action has a target date or deadline.

Step 4: Prepare for the unexpected. Every business owner operates in an ever changing world. Nothing is static. Therefore you cannot rely on anything to remain the same for any period of time. Part of thinking strategically is making predictions and forecasts regarding any shifts or changes that might impact your ability to deliver on your vision. Identify what could go wrong and plan for it. In the case of the client complaint you should prepare for the client not being willing to reschedule or for them to want more of a discount than you are willing to give. In capacity planning you should be prepared for long hiring and training periods or changes in order volume.

Practice makes perfect. Take your time. Follow these simple steps when the next business decision or challenge arises. Before you know it you will have mastered the art and leadership skill of strategic thinking.

Sherry Jordan is an expert in small business performance and leadership. She can assist you in identifying your goals and roadblocks and help you set strategies to success. For more information, call 503-954-4118.