Often strategic and operational thinking is mentioned in passing throughout the workplace, for example “they don’t think strategically enough”, or “that team has lots of operational employees”, making it tricky to get to grips with this important topic.

Whether you’re a natural strategic thinker and enjoy generating creative ideas, innovating, exploring opportunities, and consider the nitty gritty of implantation a frustrating detail, or have a preference for operational thinking, and have a passion for problem solving and implementing plans with detail and process, one is no better than the other.

In fact, organisations require both strategically-minded and operationally-minded leaders at different levels of the organisation.

But, well-rounded leaders, able to understand the differences between both strategic and operational thinking are most effective, helping you to ensure that your team all play to their strengths, plug skills gaps, build rapport and trust, and improve team dynamics. Ultimately leading to higher performance and staff satisfaction levels.

Learn more about these two crucial kinds of thinking, and their differences, below.

Alternatively, scroll to the bottom to discover the free webinar I run on Strategic Vs Operational thinking, or click the button below to learn more and secure your place. 

What Are the Differences Between Strategic and Operational Thinking?

The success of any organisation relies on harnessing both strategic and operational thinking to effectively drive the organisation towards its goals.

Strategic thinking is defined as ‘big picture’ ideas and concepts that help to develop a long-term vision for the organisation, and help it to remain competitive in a changing landscape. It is usually externally focused, and in most cases, is more pertinent the higher up the organisation you move.

Examples are, current affairs and things happening across the world that might affect the organisation, what your competitors are doing, and what the market is asking of the organisation. Strategic thinking also includes your 5 year goals, future planning, and the organisation’s positioning.

While strategic thinking is essential in leading the organisation forward, operational thinking is key to implementing big ideas on the ground, and translating long-term plans into day-to-day work.

Operational thinking is generally focused on internal factors that must be navigated to keep the organisation/department moving forward and achieving short-term objectives. For example, the problems likely to challenge how you run the team/department, and how you gain efficiency when it comes to processes and managing operations.

However, while strategic and operational thinking are each harnessed by people at different levels of the organisation, it’s essential that well rounded leaders have a rich understanding of both, to ensure cohesion between planning and implantation at every level of the organisation.

This is especially important for leaders in smaller organisations who will likely have to balance both kinds of thinking, while leaders in larger organisations will need to think more strategically, the higher up the organisation they climb.

Strategic Thinking

Operational Thinking

Using Your Understanding of Both Kinds of Thinking

There are a great many scenarios where understanding both strategic and operational thinking can be beneficial to the project, your team/department and organisation. Two examples leaders are likely to encounter are:

  1. When planning training – You may have used operational thinking to identify the need to upskill your team in something, and could invest in training to achieve this. However, without strategic thinking and the role of strategic leadership, you could spend thousands on training to find the organisation planning to reduce capacity in this area, increase capacity elsewhere, or change direction entirely.
  2. When building an organisational structure – You may identify the operational need to bring in more middle managers, and spend time and money to recruit them. However, without thinking strategically and considering the plans of strategic leaders, you may not be aware of the impact the organisation’s wider people strategy, succession plans, or growth targets may have on the workforce.

The Benefits of Developing Your Strategic and Operational Thinking

Developing your understanding of these crucial kinds of thinking can help you to improve your effectiveness and reap the following benefits across your department/organisation:

  1. Effective Decision Making – Developed by making decisions that align with both long-term objectives and goal setting (strategic thinking), and short-term objectives and immediate problem-solving (operational thinking).
  2. Resource Optimisation – With leaders across the organisation harnessing strategic and operational thinking in terms of future resource planning and utilising resources in the present, businesses can better optimise their resource allocation to meet both current and future demand.
  3. Adaptability & Flexibility – With leaders able to think strategically to forecast changes and adapt strategies, and with those managing tasks in dynamic environments with operational thinking, both leaders and organisations can increase adaptability and resilience in the face of change.
  4. Improved Problem Solving Skills – By harnessing strategic and operational thinking, both by identifying root causes and systemic issues (strategic) and addressing immediate problems and challenges (operational), you can develop your holistic problem-solving skills to tackle issues at various levels of the organisation.
  5. Aligning Goals & Actions – Developing your understanding of both kinds of thinking, and surrounding yourself with people in both camps, can help you to both set long-term goals and develop plans to achieve them, enabling you to better coordinate strategic objectives and operational activities.
  6. Competitive Advantage – Leaders and organisations that excel in both kinds of thinking are able to better anticipate market trends, identify opportunities, and mitigate risks, giving the organisation a competitive edge, and making it more adaptable.

In short, understanding both strategic and operational thinking, and their key differences, can help you to gain a necessary perspective on managing people, departments, projects and organisations, ultimately making you a better leader.

The Strategic vs Operational Thinking Webinar

In this 1-hour webinar, you’ll master strategic thinking and empower yourself to devise innovative approaches to navigate complex organisational challenges, long-term goal setting and future organisational planning.

You’ll also develop an excellent knowledge of operational thinking, and learn to more efficiently manage day-to-day tasks, allocate resources, address challenges across your team/department/organisation, maintain operational excellence and the smooth execution of projects and tasks.

By developing a deep knowledge of both strategic and operational thinking, you’ll be able to foster a culture of agility, adaptability, innovation and collaboration across your team/department/organisation, optimise performance and productivity, balance short-term and long-term plans, and lead your teams to success.

Secure your free place today. Click the button below and look for upcoming “Strategic Vs Operational Thinking” webinars.