One of the challenges many compliance practitioners face when they move up in their careers is to move from tactical to strategic thinking. It is a requirement for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) to be able to think strategically as well as tactically but as you move up the corporate ladder, the strategy becomes more important. Strategic thinking is not something taught in law schools and in most business programs. Fortunately, I came across a blog post on Spin Sucks entitled, “Strategic Thinking in PR” by Gini Dietrich which laid out six steps you can take to improve this key part of your leadership toolkit.
Before we get to those six steps, we should consider why it is so difficult to make the move from tactical expert to a strategic thinker. Dietrich believes it is for a couple of reasons. First, we tend to not to really define strategy and that vagueness allows it means different things to different people. Secondly, there are not very many people can teach it adequately, which means not very many people understand it.
The six steps are as follows: (1) Anticipate; (2) Think critically; (3) Interpret; (4) Decide; (5) align; and (6) Learn.
This means paying attention to what is happening in your business and around you. Dietrich noted that one of the biggest lessons she learned as a business owner was around the 2008- 2009 recession. She had heard inklings and market rumblings. She acknowledged she was early in her entrepreneurial journey and did not fully really anticipate how that would affect her business growth. She added, “when you think strategically, you have to anticipate things outside of your control which are going to affect business growth, your client’s business growth, your own career growth and you have to be able to anticipate it.”
Certainly, you need to read and study in your industry and profession. But even more than studying, thinking critically means using your brain. It means asking questions not only about the results but about the underlying assumptions. As Hui Chen noted about the Justice Department’s Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs document, she hoped it would get compliance professionals to think about their compliance programs and not follow a rote formula. Your critical thinking skills need to be used going forward.
Here Dietrich noted this means “looking at what to anticipate. It means thinking about how global and political trends are going to affect you.” She provided the examples of a “down economy, the stock market crashing, a shocking election for the White House, for the presidential campaign, whatever it might happen to be.” It is more than anticipating how those things will affect your career or your business as to interpret includes watching the trends inside your industry and profession. She provided an example from her world of marketing and communication professionals. She said “Procter and Gamble has just announced that they are likely going to bring their marketing in-house. They currently have 6,000 advertising, marketing, PR agencies.” This could portend a huge sea-change for not only those 6,000 agencies working for P&G who will be without business from one of their largest clients but also the entire industry. She said all PR professionals need to interpret what happens if other corporations/ brands follow suit and bring their agency work in-house. She concluded, “how do you interpret the trends inside your industry that are happening and how it will, how it will affect you in your business growth.”
Do not be paralyzed by analysis. At some point, you must decide when “enough is enough.” Dietrich noted that most particularly in this age of data-driven decision, people tend to over-analyze too much. She stated, “I mean, you can analyze data to death and it can tell a different story, depending on how you look at it and that can make it really difficult to make a decision.” On this journey of being a strategic thinker, we really have to make decisions and be OK with the fact that they may not be the right decisions, but they are the right decision at the time with the information that you had. The key is to “stop over analyzing, stop getting paralyzed with all the data that you have available and just make the decision and sometimes that means making a decision based on gut. It is OK to make a decision based on your gut.”
This one can be difficult if you want everyone to be heard and you as a leader want to be well-liked. To become strategic in your thinking, you must stop being fearful of less-than-complete consensus, as there are going to be people who do not agree with the things that you want to do or the things that you have decided to do. As a strategic leader, you are not required to have complete consensus to make everybody happy. You certainly want to listen to all sides, assess the risks, bring tough issues out in conversation and then figure out where the balance is. The bottom line is to “stop being fearful and use your communication skills to align your team.”
Here learning means more than simply learning by doing, it means learning from your mistakes and failures. One of Dietrich’s favorite sayings is “It doesn’t matter if you fall, but in how you get up when you do.” This is more than looking for an opportunity in a crisis or failure but putting the lessons learned from your failures into a constructive practice going forward. In the compliance risk management parlance, this is called the feedback loop where take the information you have developed in your risk process and applied it going forward.
Dietrich concluded that these are all habits you can learn but you must practice them. If you do you can move from the tactical to the strategic in your thinking and make yourself a much more valuable resource.