Deciphering Your Performance Review: What is Strategic Thinking?
Part of our series on Deciphering Your Performance Review, executive coach Lauren Meagher does a deep dive on what "strategic thinking" really means.
October 10, 2019

Strategic thinking is, at a high level, a forward-looking mentality that incorporates an ability to draw insights from a variety of analyses and data points to help guide the future of the organization. Strategic thinking usually encompasses certain tasks, traits, and outlooks, although the specifics may differ across companies and individuals. If your manager has asked you to develop your strategic thinking, you should refer to the guide below as well as the article “Deciphering Your Performance Review: How to Translate Vague Feedback Into Action.”

Strategic thinking tasks

Data synthesis: You are able to interpret a broad range of analyses, including competitor, customer, and market research. You understand the information presented and, more importantly, you are able to draw insights about the data’s relevance and meaning for your organization.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Data Analysis, Metrics and Measurement, Market Research, Customer Segmentation, Competitive Analysis, User / Customer Research

Financial analysis: You are able to interpret cost/benefit and financial forecasts. Depending on your role, you may also need to be versed in financial modeling and key financial ratios . Importantly, you need to be able to understand how various events, both external (e.g., changing market conditions, actions by competitors, shifting regulatory landscape) and internal (e.g., new products, different pricing, different cost structures), affect these numbers.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Financial Planning / Analysis, Cost Benefit Analysis

Knowledge attainment: You seek to understand a situation or problem not only by leveraging your own expertise, but also by seeking and utilizing data and information from other departments, functions, or industries.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Domain Knowledge, Curiosity, Initiative / Self-Drive

Strategic thinking traits

Curiosity: You show a desire to ask questions and explore new situations and problems.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Curiosity, Domain Knowledge

Initiative: You proactively draw insights from data and new information and look for ways to share it with others.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Initiative / Self-Drive, Domain Knowledge

Strategic thinking outlooks

Forward-looking: You are focused on what you and your team need to do next to succeed. You look to the past only to find patterns that may apply in the future.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Goals / Objective Management, Strategic Planning

Broad viewpoint: You look at an opportunity or problem from a variety of perspectives, across roles, functional areas, customer types, etc. Curiosity and new knowledge attainment feed into your ability to see things broadly.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Domain Knowledge, Strategic Planning, Curiosity

Goal- and objective-focused: You think about how your team and your organization will meet future goals — as well as how you will recalibrate when there are changes.

Relevant Nodabl Competencies: Goals / Objective Management, Strategic Planning

Weaving it all together

As you approach your work, whether it is an existing project or a new proposal, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What specific tasks demonstrate that I am drawing insights from existing and new sources of information to help my team move forward?
  2. How am I proactively exploring solutions that help my team as well as my department or company as a whole?
  3. How am I demonstrating a comprehensive view of situations and a focus on achieving goals?

Ask these questions, not only of you and your own work, but also of the work of others to ensure that you are clearly seen as a ”strategic thinker.”

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Written by
Lauren Meagher
Lauren Meagher is a certified executive coach and strategic advisor who is passionate about helping businesses and executives reach their maximum potential. She had a successful career working at McKinsey, American Express, Vente Privee, and (Jim) Beam Suntory and employs her expertise in leadership, team development and execution to help executives and their teams identify blind spots and go from good to great.

Leaders come to Lauren when they need to improve overall performance. From detailed individual and team assessments to 360 degree feedback to facilitation of action plans and ongoing tracking and reporting, Lauren assists executives across a full spectrum of needs from opportunity identification through execution and assessment.

Lauren holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.B.A. in Finance and Business Economics from the University of Notre Dame where she was a Valedictorian candidate.
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