There are many essential skills you need to be successful in the life sciences, especially in senior management or executive positions. One of the most important is mastering strategic thinking – an ongoing and evolving process that defines the manner in which you arrive at conclusions and make decisions. It can allow you to see opportunities that others miss.
Here’s an example. Those who aren’t inclined to think strategically might react to a change in policy or direction with, “Why rock the boat? We’ve always done things this way.” Strategic thinkers, on the other hand, will assess the potential value of an idea while identifying risk and say, “It just might work in these scenarios. Here’s why. Let’s run an experiment.”
The importance of developing strategic thinking skills
Adopting a strategic mindset is essential for life sciences executives, managers, and entrepreneurs who must keep their organisations on the path to success. There will be times when they have to make an on-the-fly decision while maintaining a rational, level-headed mindset, and strategic thinking can make this possible again and again.
In addition to the marketplace, companies have to be ready to respond to changes in:
- The local, national, and global economy
- Changes in consumer behaviour
- The competition
For a company to remain competitive, it has to adjust its flow of ideas and information to meet the dynamic nature of today’s business climate. It’s all about listening as well as giving direction, observing as well as demonstrating, and developing and using new ideas, information, and solutions. From this perspective, strategic thinking is important to growth, profitability, and success.
The Benefits of strategic thinking
There are numerous benefits to strategic thinking. It maximises your efficiency and strengths as a business leader. It also makes it easier for you to plan logically and take the most direct route toward achieving any company objective. Here are some additional benefits that result when strategic thinking guides and informs the decisions of everyone in your organisation.
Open-minded. One of the biggest mistakes people make when approaching a problem is having their mind made up on the solution before they consider other options. This is usually because their preconceived solution worked in similar situations in the past. The life sciences sector is in a constant state of flux, thanks in part to technological and regulatory change and inroads made by research, so a narrow decision-making process is not as efficient as it appears to be.
Question and evaluate information. When you think strategically, nothing is taken for granted. Considering that opportunities don’t always come labelled as such, this is a good thing. With the life sciences industry being characterised by constant change, companies whose leaders have a rigid way of responding to new situations will have trouble staying relevant. Reports suggest that one-in-three companies that are presently industry leaders might exist in the next five years, so the ability to see beyond the horizon and embrace change maximises your chance of staying relevant.
Comprehension. Strategic thinking requires you to view a problem or situation from multiple perspectives, with the goal of taking the most logical and productive approach. The result is a deeper understanding of both professional and business goals.
Valuable, sought-after business assets. When you step outside of traditional ways of thinking and problem solving, the result could be rewards that were unattainable due to a more limited way of doing things in the past. Examples include an innovative new research style that yields superior results compared to the old system or a new product that turns out to be a breakaway hit with customers. Henry David Thoreau once stated, “It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about?” When you think strategically, you challenge assumptions and focus on sourcing and developing opportunities to create value for the business.
How to improve strategic thinking skills
The ability to think strategically is rapidly becoming the deciding factor in who becomes a leader and who remains a follower. The life science industry is now so fast-paced that executives, managers, and entrepreneurs have to take a holistic approach to decision-making, problem-solving, and practically in their daily responsibilities.
Here are ways that you can take a more strategic approach to everything you do.
- Make time for progress and thinking. While it is important to take care of daily tasks, even the mundane ones, you must set aside some time to think about the future. This is the path to progress. Go over your responsibilities, decide which ones can wait temporarily, and let yourself think of ways you can contribute to the success of your organisation. Always action on the task that will provide the greatest benefits today, and leave lesser tasks for tomorrow. Ask yourself, “what is the one task I can do today that will leverage the most benefit?”
- Be aware of your own bias. Everyone has biases. You do too. Take charge of your mind by critically examining your thoughts and questioning them. Do you hold them because they are logical now or because they’ve served you well in the past? Admitting to some flawed thinking does not diminish your ability to do your job. On the contrary: you are now thinking strategically.
- Improve your listening skills. Once you accept that your beliefs may be flawed, the next step is to improve your listening skills. Talk to your colleagues, employees and wider network and let their perspectives teach you new ways of thinking. Maintain an open mind, be receptive to feedback, and evaluate everything you hear.
- Hone questioning skills. Strategic thinking requires you to question everything you see or are told. This is not the same as being cynical: you’re collecting and weighing facts, not shooting down ideas or traditions. Ask if an idea is rational, with a credible source and any proof to support its value. Taking time to question something and understand why it is being proposed.
- Understand the consequences. All decisions have consequences. After listening to ideas and points of view, carefully consider the potential impact of each one. What are its pros and cons? Which one is most likely to help the company meet its goals? This step will help you make a final decision, and over time, making the strategic choice will come more naturally.
Mastering the art of strategic thinking will do more than generate better ideas or improve your decision-making. When you encourage employees to think more critically, you build a framework that makes you a better leader, protects your business from future uncertainties, and gives you an optimal chance of achieving long-term career success.
Are you a strategic thinker?
How can you tell if you are a strategic thinker? These comparisons of attitudes and situations can help you understand your own thinking style.
- Look toward the future and remain alert for opportunities that may arise.
- Are curious about what is going in on in their department, the company, and the industry as a whole.
- Are willing to work harder today to reap the benefits tomorrow.
- Don’t limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’.
- Assign greater importance to projects that have the potential for a greater impact and return.
- Will change their approach to a problem or situation according to circumstances.
- Are lifelong learners who actively seek knowledge and enjoy teaching what they learn to others.
- Are best described as ‘creative’ individuals who think outside the box.
- Tend to be reactive: they wait for guidance and rarely present new ideas.
- Are introspective and rarely notice or take interest in anything beyond their immediate area of responsibility.
- Don’t always take the time to think about long-term goals.
- Prefer the status quo.
- Usually approach all tasks the same way, without being affected by urgency or impact.
- Are hesitant about changing their strategy even when doing so could yield better results.
- Remain content with their current capabilities and are not motivated to learn more.
- Are predictable individuals who prefer to follow a set path.
One of the things that CEOs and senior executives ask themselves regularly is how they can encourage more strategic thinking in their firms and organisations. It’s not a simple matter of saying to their employees, “I want you to start thinking more strategically.” This directive is not specific enough to get them started in the right direction. As this article has shown, strategic thinking is a mindset, a way of examining different things and linking them in a manner that is both logical and adds value. The steps presented here can turn it into a habit.
The key is to keep an open mind, which allows for creative problem-solving, and get rid of all preconceptions, which can cloud your thinking. You may find value where you least expected it.
For more career advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life science industry…
- Read Work Less, Achieve More: How To Improve Your Work-Life-Balance.
- Visit our life science job board to start your job search.
* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.