- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (1 January 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1633696936
- ISBN-13: 978-1633696938
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
HBR Guide to Thinking Strategically (HBR Guide Series) Paperback – 8 Jan 2019
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About the Author
Harvard Business Review is the leading destination for smart management thinking. Through its flagship magazine, 13 international licensed editions, books from Harvard Business Review Press, and digital content and tools published on HBR.org, Harvard Business Review provides professionals around the world with rigorous insights and best practices to lead themselves and their organizations more effectively and to make a positive impact.
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Much has been written about formulating strategy, but this is an event that once ended, is left to be executed by strategic thinkers. This is the first comprehensive book I have read on how to be that person, at any leadership level.
The authors describe strategic thinking as “analyzing opportunities and problems from a broad perspective, and understanding the potential impact your actions might have on the future of your organization, your team, or your bottom line.”
The strategic genius, Professor Rumelt titled his seminal book, ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy’ because he believes strategy is either one or the other. There is no other option. In similar vein I have observed that people are either good strategic thinkers or bad strategic thinkers, there is no third category.
Strategic thinking begins with going beyond your day-to-day activities and considering the larger environment in which you’re operating. It starts with asking questions and challenging assumptions about how things operate in your company and industry. Based on strategic thinking, you are able to make daily decisions about how you and your team should be spending your time.
This is the only way you ensure that every choice you make, and every action you take, drives results that matter to the organization. On even cursory reflection, this is an obvious requirement of every successful manager at every level.
Strategic thinking is not a natural way of thinking, rather it is a skill that is learned deliberately, or less often, by osmosis in an environment of strategic thinkers.
Strategic thinking starts with an understanding of the company’s strategy. At whatever level one operates, this is what one is employed to do. Period. If it is a good strategy, you will able to claim that you are partly responsible for its success. If it is a bad strategy, you will able to claim that you worked as effectively as you could to try and get the best out of a bad strategy.
William Schiemann reports that only 14% of organizations he surveyed, claimed that their employees had a clear understanding of their company’s strategy and direction, and that only 24% felt the strategy was linked to their individual accountabilities and capabilities.
The characteristics of a strategic thinker have received attention in the leadership literature. However, this is “usually in isolation and seldom in the special context of high stakes and deep uncertainty that can make or break both companies and careers”, the authors explain.
People who think strategically have specific personal traits, behaviors, and attitudes, the first of which is curiosity about – well, everything – what is going on in the company, in the industry, in the country, amongst competitors, and more. And then they question whether they and their units are focused on the right things. Their focus is on the future and how the unit and company’s operations may change in the coming months and years.
To be a strategic leader, not just a strategic thinker, requires consistency. The objective that you pursue, must be persistently pursued, but this must be combined with the agility to adapt approaches and shift ideas when new information is received.
A fundamental of strategic thinking is learning: the gathering of knowledge and information. This often complex, sometimes ambiguous body of data, must be interpreted to get the insights you can use to make smart choices and select appropriate courses of action.
There are many ways to deal with this confusion, but the authors offer effective and easily applied approaches. These include: talking to your customers, suppliers, and other partners to understand their challenges; using simple scenarios to imagine various futures so you can prepare for the unexpected; looking at fast-growing rivals, and examining the actions they have taken that puzzle you. (For example, why did they have a sale early this year, but of much fewer items that everyone else.)
You could use the “five whys” of Sakichi Toyoda, (Toyota’s founder). Why did this happen? And when you have an answer, ask a “why” on that answer, and so on five times to get to the heart of the matter.
Finland’s former president J. K. Paasikivi was fond of saying that wisdom begins by recognizing the facts and then “re-cognizing,” or rethinking them, to expose their hidden implications.
When analyzing ambiguous data, the authors suggest, list at least three possible explanations for the data, and invite perspectives from others.
When you advance from strategic thinking, to the decision and action phase of being a strategic leader, insist on multiple options right at the beginning. Avoid getting prematurely locked into simplistic go/no-go choices of the Brexit variey. Reframe binary decisions by asking your colleagues, “What other options do we have?” And then make your decision based on the long-term, not the short-term.
As a strategic thinker, the recurring question that you must ask yourself is, how your actions create value that can maximize your contribution to your organization, and set you up for success. You will find this book is extraordinarily valuable. It has no 'breakthrough', new material; everything has been said more fully elsewhere before, but never as a concise guide, all in one place.
Readability Light -+--- Serious
Valuable Insights Many --+-- Few
Practical application High +---- Low
Ian Mann consults internationally on strategy and implementation and is the author of “Strategy That Works” and the “Executive Update”.
However if you are looking for quick reference about strategy development and execution, this guide is valuable. It includes several chapters from great authors who share good approaches, frameworks, tools and trips.
I personally like the section on "Move from Thinking Strategically to Executing the Strategy".
As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 25-30 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost. What we have in this paperbound edition are 29 articles previously published by Harvard Business Review. If purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $259.55 Amazon US currently sells this volume for only $14.11.
In the Introduction, the HBR editors explain why everyone needs to think strategically. Those who do "demonstrate specific personal traits, behaviors, and attitudes, some of which can seem to conflict."They explain the importance of these:o Curiosityo Consistencyo Agilityo Future focuso Outward focuso Opennesso Breadtho QuestioningThen they recommend six key elements for "putting strategic thinking into action."
1. Understand your organization's overarching strategic objectives.
2. Keep a big-picture perspective.
3. Make decisions with the organization in mind.
4. Set strategic priorities and manage trade-offs.
5. Align your team around organizational goals.
6. Move beyond strategy and start to execute."
This book is geared to help you change the way you think and to align your work and the work of your team with the larger objectives and purpose of your company."The material is organized within eight sections. The individual essays in each section address specific issues related to a general objective:
Section One: How to become a more effective strategic thinker in your daily work
Two: How to determine and then understand your organization's strategy
Three: How to develop a "Big Picture" perspective
Four: How to align decisions with your organization's strategic objectives
Five: How to set priorities and manage trade-offs
Six: How to align your team around strategic goals
Seven: How to transition from thinking strategically to executing the strategy
Eight: How to navigate (or around) through challenges to strategic thinking
The HBR Editors include two appendices: "Questions to Inspire Strategic Thinking" (adapted from Pocket Mentor: Thinking Strategically, published by Harvard Business Press), and, "Organizational Strategy: A Primer" (adapted from Harvard Business Review Manager's Handbook published by Harvard Business Review Press).
It remains for each reader to determine which of the material is of greatest interest and value to them but I do recommend that all of the material be read so as to create a context, a frame of reference, from which to select information, insights, and suggestions that are most relevant. I also suggest that key passages be highlighted and that a lined notebook be kept near at hand in which to record comments, questions, cross references, etc.Reading strategically should be guided and informed by thinking strategically. Hence the importance of checking out the "Contents" and "Introduction" first.
For some executives, especially those with limited experience with direct-reports, this may well be the most valuable volume in HBR's "Guide to" series.
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