How to use strategic thinking to improve your career

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Article by Gemma Leigh Roberts

In the age of disruption and working in a fast-paced, competitive environment, employees have been stripped of the luxury of psychological space to consider how to respond to events, and the time to reflect and plan their careers.

An obvious antidote to this may be to teach yourself how to be prepared for all eventualities, but this is practically impossible if employees are working at their capacity to achieve results in an ever-progressing work environment. The practical approach is to become adept at strategic and agile thinking, honing the skills required to deal with change as it comes, rather than fixating on what the future may look like, which in all honesty we can never know.

You may be just starting out in your career, or you may be leading a team. Wherever you are right now on your career journey take a moment to pause and consider how you feel about change. Does the idea of transformation fill you with dread? Are you open to new ideas and curious to try new ways of doing things to improve your career? If you feel that you embrace change, are you able to bring others along on the ride with you? The future of work will be fast-moving as new technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics develop. Embracing change, adapting and thinking strategically will be core components of your future success at work.

Envisioning different versions of the future can be an effective way not only to cope with a changeable working landscape, but actually to prepare yourself for potential career changes and challenges that may come your way. Developing the ability to consider what future challenges and opportunities may impact your role, division or industry can minimize the uncomfortable uncertainty that can accompany change. We all have an appetite for experiencing change – some find the experience exciting and motivating, whereas others find the same situation unsettling and are fearful or anxious when they focus on the transformations that are happening around them. No matter how open you are to change right now, if you can build strategic planning into your working life, you’ll become more adept at not only preparing for the future but also predicting it.

Of course, you can’t control how the future pans out. Holding on to the hope you can completely direct your future by continuously thinking about it may create tension, and possibly feed into anxiety or stress. Taking time to consider how the future may unfold for you, your team, your business and industry can, however, provide some comfort if the idea of change can at times make you uneasy. The trick is to not allow thoughts about what may happen consume you, as that can cause worry or fear. Instead, map out strategy sessions periodically where you think through possibilities as you see developments unfold around you. Take into account industry, technology and economic developments and ask yourself how these could affect you. Where could the opportunities lie? Where could there be causes for concern? If these scenarios pan out, you will have some ideas about how to tackle the situation, but that isn’t the point of this exercise. The reason this strategic thinking is so important is because it reinforces the idea that you can deal with change and challenges. In reality, the chances of the exact scenarios you envision playing out may be slim, but through this process you’re developing and reinforcing a cognitive skill required to deal with change effectively – considering your options and opportunities objectively.

Rather than just working through ambiguity, get used to it. We work in a VUCA world – it’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. When you feel dread creeping in as you face challenges, before your mind goes anywhere else, focus on finding one opportunity that might arise from the situation and use that to give you hope.

Strategy can sound like an ambitious word. But strategic thinking isn’t a concept reserved for organisations, and it doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. It simply means thinking consciously about the choices we make, as opposed to operating on autopilot. We can all be strategic in our life, career, and day-to-day. In fact, we should be. If we don’t choose our priorities, these choices will be made for us.

Gemma RobertsAbout the author

Gemma Leigh Roberts is a Chartered Psychologist, the founder of coaching platform The Resilience Edge, and author of Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty, published by Kogan Page, priced at £12.99.

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