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Why Strategic Thinking Training Has Become So Important

In the past 6 to 12 months, I have been asked far more than usual about strategic thinking training. The trend has continued to grow over the past couple months or so. I began to get curious why.

In the June 2021 article “Employers Face Hiring Challenge as Boomers Retire in Record Numbers,” Kathy Gurchiek of SHRM aptly stated, “With more than 75 million Baby Boomers retiring sooner rather than later, it’s clear that employers will need a strong workforce plan for replacing exiting workers.” The Pew Research Center found that about 28.6 million Baby Boomers retired in the third quarter of 2020 alone. This exodus creates new opportunities for Gen-X and older Millennials to step up into senior-level positions.

This led me to write an article for Forbes titled, “How Companies Can Head Off The Strategic Thinking Workforce Deficit”. In doing some casual research, I found that executives in larger sized companies have a growing concern about their employees ability to think strategically.

Strategic thinking training is a tough topic to teach. For one thing, strategic thinking training has different interpretations. In talking with business managers, there are five skills strategic thinking posses:

  • Basic business acumen– What’s important to note here is that advances business acumen is not a requirement. Interestingly, the idea of in-depth business acumen is actually avoided.
  • Effective leadership behavior– Pretty much every person I talked to mentioned the fact that if a person doesn’t have effective leadership skills, all the other components will fall flat. As a result, strategic thinking training needs to have a strong emphasis on leadership behavior.
  • Cross functional mindset– I would argue this falls under most leadership behavior models, but this was called out quite often so I’ll leave it separate. In this case, strategic thinking training must emphasize a cross-functional skill development component.
  • Emphasis on strategy execution– I completely agree with this one. The days of “build a strategy deck and do business as usual” are totally over. Business managers across the board mentioned the need for strategic thinking training to include a strong emphasis on strategy execution.

Let’s assume we can mostly agree on the strategic thinking training needs, this is still an amazingly tough topic to teach. So this leads us to our next topic: How the heck can you create a strategic thinking course. Well, everyone and every organization is different so I’ll just cover what I’ve found has to be within any strategic thinking training to be successful.

How do you create a strategic thinking training course

  • Ditch the theory– Strategic thinking training is simply useless unless it is based in current and applicable reality. It is best to partner with your strategy group or business leaders in order to create real-life based strategic thinking training.
  • Hands-on learning- This probably goes without saying but it’s some important, I had to add it. Strategic thinking must be practiced hands-on. This can be accomplished a few ways. One way is to create a case study and decision tool. Another way is to do well thought out rotations with executives.
  • Involve real executives– It is most effective if strategic thinking training includes real-life executives. This dove tails in with ditching theory but is a little different. Strategic thinking is usually built up over years of experience. Who better to delivery strategic thinking training than those that have been through it in real life.

Strategic thinking training is tough! By no means does this one post even begin to peel the complex layers. But I will add the following graphic which does an ok job at looking at all the training skills that I think go into strategic thinking training. But as usual, I believe using a business simulation in leadership development is a great way to accomplish all of this. But of course I do, right? Enjoy!

Strategic Thinking Training

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