Strategic Thinkers Think Systemically

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Strategic thinkers increase their value to any project or organization because of their excellent competencies. And a critical ability is how they see the entire value-creating system. They see and understand how the parts of the organization fit together. Of course, they do not only look at one piece; they take a comprehensive view of everything.

Here is a tip: if you want to become a strategic thinker and see more of the system - start with the first strategic thinking competency and start Thinking Systemically. A great process that helps is the 5 C's.

Strategic Thinkers Think Systemically


It is easy to read or hear the word customers and ignore your internal customers. For some roles, like support functions, you may not interact with external customers like others in your organization. Even so, you still have customers.

Strategic thinkers know that they have people who receive their work product. They also know they are customers of others who provide them with a product or service. When you consider internal customers, you expand your ability to think strategically about more of the business. You can use the following to think about your customers.

  • QUESTIONS - Who are my customers? What do they want? How will their wants change? What does my ideal customer look like?
  • LEARN MORE - Do customer surveys, arrange focus groups, brainstorm with peers, and become their customers if possible.


How much do you know about your company? Strategic thinkers see their role as part of how the company creates value. So they pay attention to their work and ensure it adds value rather than detracts. They also encourage others to see their role as more than a job - it is how the company provides value to external customers.

  • QUESTIONS - What do I not understand about the company strategy? Can I state the company strategy briefly and clearly? Where does my unit fit in that strategy? Where do I fit in that strategy?
  • LEARN MORE - Read or listen to the CEO's presentations to the board, investors, and others. Review the company Web site, newsletters, and other internal sources for information about company strategy. Read the company's annual report if it is public. Review the company advertisements and press releases. Look at marketing and product information. Attend company meetings in which strategies and results are discussed. Volunteer for cross-functional teams and task forces


Competitors can be an obstacle or an opportunity. Strategic thinkers know that competition can improve the company and look for ways to add more value to the products and services the company sells. When you think strategically, you look for ways to beat the competition and become a threat to their long-term viability.

  • QUESTIONS - Who are our current competitors? What tactics are they using? How are we different from them? What strengths do they have that might prove a threat to us? What weaknesses might they have that we could exploit? Where is the industry going? What trends in technology, governmental policy, natural resources, and other vital forces—might have important implications for us?
  • LEARN MORE - Become your competitor’s customer. Look for and read analysts' reports about competitors (of publicly traded companies). Network with other professionals who are familiar with competitors. Go to trade shows to see what the competitors are doing. Read good business publications. Talk with other informed professionals. Participate in trade and professional associations.


Businesses don't get results; people in the business do! You and your co-workers are the reason the company is thriving or not. The attitudes of the management and people drive the quality of the products and services. That requires strategic thinkers to help people have the proper attitude about their work and values.

  • QUESTIONS - What business processes are impacted by each person? Who's involved in these business processes? How can we assess and know the roles and responsibilities in the processes? What are their goals?
  • LEARN MORE - Talk with other managers in the organization to network. Ask what their challenges and needs are. Ask them how you could help them achieve their goals. Get their understanding of company strategy formulation, planning, and execution. Get their input and concerns about implementing ideas you are considering. Discuss with them everyone that’s impacted by your work processes and theirs. How you can make your ideas work for everyone. Do they see problems with your ideas—what are the pitfalls? What are their views on improving your ideas or plans? Ask those impacted by your plans what needs to change to make it work for them.


Culture is abstract but becomes tangible when you see people's actions, approaches, and attitudes. Culture is the overarching structure that demands the behavior of the people in the organization.

While culture may be difficult to assess at the company level, it is easier at the group or team level. Strategic thinkers focus on smaller parts of the business to see what changes can be made there. They take the purpose, values, and leader behaviors to the teams and groups and get the first-line supervisors focused on what is happening in their team. Culture change is manageable at the team or group level but always subject to the company culture. It will take courage and discipline to be different in a culture that needs to change.

As each team changes to fit the stated core values and purpose, the company's culture begins to change. And always appreciate the need for top management to live the company's core values. 

  • QUESTIONS - What is the company’s purpose, mission, and values? Which of the values are most and least visible? Is the culture more about performance than who you know? What legal issues are changing the way we do business? Assess how political the environment is. How is the culture changing? Who has power or influence in the organization? Look for those people who are influential without titles. What makes them effective? Who gets things done and has the ear of the decision-makers?
  • LEARN MORE - Read your company's Purpose, Mission, and Values statements. Discuss with your supervisor and peers how they define the company's culture. Assess and discuss whether the company's actions match the Purpose, Mission, and Values.


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