Shikuku paced the halls of his main hospital.  He managed a healthcare system that spanned from Kakamega to Malindi.  He both admired the efficiency and mulled over possible innovations that could leap his organization past competitors.

As Shikuku moved throughout his hospitals and clinics across Kenya, he felt repeatedly impressed at his employees’ nimble reactions to his orders to quickly make alterations in their health management.  The staff carried out his instructions accurately to the letter and with swift speed.  However, over the years, he began to wish that his staff could develop ideas and implement initiatives without always seeking approval and guidance from him first. 

Inasmuch, Shikuku entered 2016 with a New Year’s resolution to create, enable, and compel strategic thinking within his hospital system.  However, as January drew to a close, he noticed that holding staff and management meetings and demanding for workers to “think strategically” yielded no results.

Shikuku learned a critical lesson in leadership.  Asking employees to execute some kind of action, does not work in isolation.  As an example, one cannot walk up to a shop owner at Sarit Centre roundabout in Westlands and demand them to pilot an airplane.  First, the shop owner would require significant training before gaining flight competency.  Second, the same shop owner must utilize a sufficiently maintained and operationally sufficient aircraft.

Similarly, Shikuku must train and demonstrate to his managers and employees how to think strategically.  Simultaneously, he needs to prepare the independent and mediating variables that contribute towards a strategically thinking organization and strategically thinking staff in the same way that FastJet must provide airplanes for pilots.  Only after following the first two steps should Shikuku expect to observe strategic thinking in his health system and start reaping the benefits.

So let us examine what social science research discovered on how to foster and grow strategic thinking in an organization.  First, the benefits of strategic thinking prove powerful and desirable for businesses.  Researcher Byeong-Joon Moon from Kyung Hee University in South Korea built on previous research to uncover that organizations with strategically thinking employees yield higher sales for their companies with larger profit margins and gain greater market share.  Such strong results necessitate executive attention and action on strategic thinking.

Second, what independent variables create a foundation that enables strategic thinking to grow in a firm?  Robert Allio delineates that an entity’s organization culture stands as a major attribute helping or hindering strategic thinking.  The key aspects of company customs with the largest positive impact involve: attitude towards risk, reward systems, and a CEO’s emphasis.  Does your organization reward risk taking or are your employees fearful of retribution if they take an operational risk that fails?  Do you protect risk takers when they fall short and champion them when they succeed?  If not, do not expect much strategic thinking.  Similarly, how do you reward your staff?  Purely extrinsic monetary rewards do not yield enough results.  Include intrinsic rewards such as providing autonomy, ability to master their craft, and give them a greater purpose for their roles.  But the monetary rewards you do offer should tie in to strategic goals, innovation, and long-term rather than short-term results.  Additionally, employees’ perceptions that the CEO thinks strategically, emphasizes day-to-day activities, and approaches organizational issues in a holistic way not in a narrow manner also significantly increases employees’ own strategic thinking.

Amalia Pandelica and her colleagues also researched the effects of organizational structure on employee and institutional strategic thinking.  Not surprisingly, they revealed that the rigidity and formalization of company processes and policies as well as how centralized decision making occurs in a firm actually reduces strategic thinking instead of enhancing it.  CEOs who control most decisions, fail to allow autonomy, and build mechanistic restraints in interactions, stifle and eventually kill off strategic thinking in their firms.

Interestingly, resources and competencies within a firm contribute toward employee dreaming and idea visualization that builds strategic thinking.  Song and Perry researched how if product developers, marketers, operational managers, and process supervisors retain access to adequate resources and hold skills and training, then a firm should expect more strategic results than constrained entities.  Further, if teams within a firm engage in interdepartmental and interdependent tasks and goals, then greater strategic thinking ensues.

Third, the above independent variables cause the following mediating variables that serve as the proverbial raw materials of strategic thinking.  Dale Fondness’ research shows that a strategic thinker encompasses systematic thinking, creative thinking, vision driven thinking, and market oriented thinking. 

So at this moment, write down on a piece of paper each of the above four types of strategic thinking.  Then put the following numbers besides each type: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  Go ahead rate yourself on the scale with 1 representing your poor ability in that area with 7 meaning you hold remarkably high ability in it.  Then when you total up the four types of strategic thinking, is your strategic thinking scoring greater than 22, or must you work on some of the types?

Next, rate your organization on the same scale on each type: systematic thinking, creative thinking, vision driven thinking, and market oriented thinking - hopefully your entity scores higher than 22.  If you rate yourself higher than your company, then you must foster change at your firm.  If you strategically think less than your entity average, then improve your skills or risk isolation and internal sidelining. 

Remember, independent variables impact how well individual employees and an organization strategically thinks.  Then strengthen the four types of strategic thinking as mediating variables leads to the effect of the dependent variables of higher sales, profit margins, and greater market share for your firm.  Share techniques on how to generate greater strategic thinking in your organization with other blog readers through #KenyaThinking on Twitter.


Professor Scott serves as the Director of the New Economy Venture Accelerator (NEVA) and Chair of the Faculty Senate at @USIUAfrica and may be reached on:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or follow on Twitter: @ScottProfessor .

In next week’s edition of Business Talk, we explore “New Trends in Management“.  Read current and prior Business Talk articles on here.