Developing strategic thinking is a common development problem for IT professionals who aspire to leadership roles.

I came across an article from which highlights some approaches to developing strategic thinking. So I thought I would try and link this to SFIA and see if it could help IT professionals.

In SFIA – strategic skills come into play at level 6 and level 7.

The most obvious references in the SFIA Level 6 generic responsibilities are …

  • Contributes to the formulation and implementation of IT strategy

and at SFIA Level 7

  • Develops long-term strategic relationships with customers, partners, industry leaders and government.
  • Leads on the formulation and implementation of strategy
  • Has a full range of strategic management and leadership skills

The article also proposes that strategic thinking is closely related to thinking “systemically”

we can see pointers for systemic thinking at SFIA Level 6

  • Influences policy formation on the contribution of own specialism to business objectives
  • Applies a wide range of technical and / or management principles
  • Understands the implications of new technologies
  • Has a broad understanding of all aspects of IT
  • Understands and communicates the role and impact of IT in the employing organisation

and then at SFIA Level 7

  • Influences developments within the IT industry at the highest levels
  • Has a deep understanding of the IT industry and the implications of emerging technologies for the wider business environment
  • Has a broad and deep IT knowledge coupled with equivalent knowledge of the activities of those businesses and other organisations that employ IT
  • Communicates the potential impact of emerging technologies on organisations and individuals and assesses the risks of using or not using such technologies
  • Assesses the impact of legislation

A recurring theme in the professional development of aspiring IT leaders is when a high performing, technically strong “level 5”  IT manager of IT specialist is viewing their next development step and faces the catch 22 situation – “if my current role doesn’t give me chance to get involved in strategic thinking how do I develop and demonstrate the skills and behaviors required”.

And the answer is that we need to be creative and carve out opportunities to allow this to happen. Lets see what the HBR article says:

a strategic approach to leadership was … 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication … and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors.

This is both the size of the opportunity and also the trap for the IT specialist who has, until now, thrived on the hands, on deep expertise needed for their role.

The article goes on …

Strategic leaders take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving and decision-making that involves objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning.

That means being able to think in multiple time frames, identifying what they are trying to accomplish over time and what has to happen now, in six months, in a year, in three years, to get there.

It also means thinking systemically …  identifying the impact of their decisions on various segments of the organization—including internal departments, personnel, suppliers and customers.

And then there are some suggestions to help develop strategic thinking …

Encourage managers to set a regular time aside for strategic planning – A strategic approach takes time. Make it a regular part of their job.
Provide information to your leaders on the market, the industry, customers, competitors and new technologies that influence your business. One of the key prerequisites of strategic leadership is having relevant and broad business information that helps leaders elevate their thinking beyond the day-to-day.
Keep people informed on what is happening internally. Effective strategy requires information shared across boundaries; cross-functional teams can work on strategic organizational issues, and the results of their thinking and efforts should be published and shared throughout the organization.
Connect managers with a mentor – The ideal mentor is someone who is widely known for his/her ability to keep people focused on strategic objectives and the impact of their actions.
Communicate a well-articulated philosophy, mission and goal statement throughout the organization. Individuals and groups need to understand the broader organizational strategy in order to stay focused and incorporate it into their own plans and strategies.
Reward people for evidence of thinking, not just reacting; wherever possible, organizational culture should encourage anticipating opportunities and avoiding problems, and discourage crisis management.
Promote a future perspective for employees by incorporating it into training and development programs; teach people what strategic thinking is and encourage them to ask “why” and “when” questions.

Read more at HBR Develop Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization

Text from the SFIA quoted by kind permission of The SFIA Foundation:

Photo by karola riegler photography