3 Steps to Thinking Strategically And How To Use Them

My lessons from the trauma room to the board room

The treatment area of the resuscitation room is full of chatter between the waiting group of doctors and nurses. The tension is tangible as they wait for the arrival of the patient. The patient is a twenty-two-year-old male and he was on the wrong side of a car vs. pedestrian collision.

A hush descends in the room as the paramedics arrive with the patient. The casualty’s pain is the only noise in the room apart from the hum of machines waiting to burst into action. A voice from the back of the room calls for the paramedic to commence the handover.

The voice is from the consultant.

From the Trauma Room to the Board Room

I’m always looking for opportunities that will help me improve the skills I use in life and business. In particular, those within the areas of leadership, strategy and decision making, which I would consolidate into strategic thinking.

These opportunities present themselves in the strangest of ways sometimes, and that’s what happened one evening. My wife was watching a new trauma care documentary on TV and I couldn’t help but be drawn to it as well.

Most viewers would have been interested in the patients and their injuries, but that wasn’t what captured my attention.

I was fascinated with how the consultant went about treating the patient. His composure under the severest of pressure was incredible. However, what struck me was the behaviour that he and his team followed.

Having watched several of these programmes, I observed the same repeated behaviour with different consultants as well. Each time, three steps were used to enhance the strategic thinking the consultant needed to undertake.

I could see how significant these three steps were. There was only one question in my mind, how could businesses learn from this?

The Golden Hour

Whether the patient lives or dies depends on the first hour. This is the so-called golden hour. Today’s trauma treatment focuses heavily on this critical hour.

Countless casualties have not had the benefit of this focus on the golden hour, with the cost considerably high. However, today we have a different mindset and approach to trauma care.

The consultant’s job is to manage the golden hour, assessing the feedback from his team and the data from the machines. Critically though, he must think strategically about each action that is taken in the care of the patient.

He is the conductor in the orchestra, with the outcome to save a life rather than provide entertainment.

It can’t be stressed enough. The consultant’s role and his behaviour are focused on strategically managing the care of the patient.

The behaviour part is a significant part for me.

The Three Steps to think strategically in Trauma

We often think of strategy as a long-term process taking many months to reach the goal that’s been set.

In trauma care, long-term becomes the golden hour, a precious 60 minutes. Because time is of the essence, the impact of each decision that’s made is magnified.

In trauma care today, deliberate behaviour is used to optimise the approach of the person responsible for making decisions.

  1. A clear goal — preserve life
  2. The consultant doesn’t undertake direct care of the patient
  3. He remains at the foot of the bed, in a position to receive feedback, observe treatments and give instructions.

Let’s put those practical steps into a more generic structure.

  1. A clear and simple strategy
  2. Maintain a big picture perspective
  3. Be part of the feedback loop

These three-steps create a dynamic for thinking strategically.

The consultant has a simple strategy in place, with the long-term aim to preserve life. He is able to maintain a big picture perspective by not working directly on the patient. This prevents him from drowning in the detail, a known failure point.

Lastly, the consultant is a critical part of the feedback loop. He receives feedback and assesses it. He is thinking strategically about how that feedback fits within the strategy and more importantly deciding what should happen next.

It is a great three-step process that demonstrates effective leadership, strategy and decision making through strategic thinking.

How to apply the three steps in business

Of course, the medical world is very different from the business world. But, as we have just seen, strategic thinking involves more than just skill. It needs behaviour.

“Strategic thinking involves more than just skill. It needs behaviour.”

So, what should this behaviour look like?

For me, I believe that the same 3 step process used in trauma care can be used in business. The primary difference between trauma care and business is that of time. The business has the benefit of having considerably longer than an hour to work in.

Sadly, in my experience, this additional time gives a business the perception that thinking strategically becomes less important. This leads businesses to fail or at best stand still and not grow.

To overcome this, here are 3 practical steps that are similar to the behaviour seen in the example above.

1. Thinking strategically, first create a strategy

In my experience, many businesses have a poorly thought out business strategy. For me, the trauma care strategy is stunning clear (and simple). This makes all the difference when it comes to implementing this first step.

In a previous article, I wrote about how to create a strategy in business and the importance of establishing a goal. A business that fails to set out a clear and concise strategy is a business that’s likely to fail.

My post on creating a strategy in business describes the basis of building a strategy using three separate steps (not to be confused with the 3 steps to thinking strategically).

Firstly, a diagnosis details a summary of a problem or opportunities that exist for that business. A guiding policy explains how the business will overcome that problem in a summary format and include a long-term goal.

To achieve the goal, coherent actions describe the steps or tactics to make this possible.

2. Maintain the big picture perspective

The second step of the behaviour is maintaining a big picture perspective.

In our example, the consultant achieves this by not treating the casualty directly. In business, especially a small business this can be almost impossible to achieve.

If you are a small business owner who has to be involved in the detail, then it’s essential you make time to think strategically. This failure is where most businesses go wrong. All too often, small business owners get submerged in the detail and lose sight of the big picture.

If you’re a Managing Director that isn’t so involved in the detail, then its easier to maintain a big picture perspective.

3. Be part of the feedback loop

When the consultant is treating a patient in the trauma room, his physical position is vitally important. His position gives him immediate access to the patient, the monitors and the team that is treating the patient.

The consultant is a direct component of this feedback loop, both giving and receiving information. Its communication is at its heart and its key to ensuring the consultant keeps thinking strategically.

How does this work in a business? Simply, it means having proper reporting practices, such as KPI (Key Performance Indicators) in place. These will need to relate to the objectives set out in your strategy.

Just as important is to ensure that as a Managing Director you chair leadership team meetings. Getting feedback from your colleagues, as well as customers and suppliers are vital.

Thinking Strategically

Some business owners might look at the consultant in a trauma department with a degree of envy. I certainly do.

Don’t get me wrong, the golden hour is a big pressure situation for the consultant, his team and the patient.

Of course, the consultant and his team face many variables that they can’t control. But the ones they can control, and behaviour through this three-step process is one of them, means they are certainly stacking the cards in their favour.

In business, thinking strategically is so important. If you’re a small business owner then the capacity to implement this is greatly reduced. For me, that’s why you should work harder to facilitate it happening. It could make all the difference.

If thinking strategically is a challenge for your business, why not look at the three-step process I have outlined? It could make all the difference…

How does your business think strategically?

I’m curious about the process of making personal — and business decisions. Follow me as I explore this through my writing.

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