How to become a good strategist

How do you become a good strategist? (in a company)

About 20 minutes ago I googled “How to become a good strategist?” and read the first 5 articles. I got frustrated reading only general study tips and strategy explanations. Therefore, I want to make the question clearer and assume a strategist within a company. But how do you become a good strategist now?

It is necessary to build knowledge about each area of ​​the company and how they work together. In addition, a strategist must understand the environment (customers, competition, etc.) and how it affects the company. It requires experience in business life to be able to make good decisions and knowledge about strategy development itself.

In short, we can also say that an ongoing learning process about a company’s situation and strategy itself, coupled with feedback from the market, makes you a good strategist. Or even shorter: Knowledge and experience through application!

My goal here is to give you the guide I couldn’t find…

Learn the basics of strategy

As you have probably already guessed, you will not be able to avoid building up basic knowledge on the subject of strategy. No one can become good at anything without knowing the basics.

In the area of ​​strategy and especially for corporate strategy, there are various ways in which you can acquire the basics.

  • Books
  • YouTube
  • seminars
  • Webinars (meaning “pre-recorded”)
  • websites like ours
  • coaching

The problem you will encounter is the question: “How do I distinguish the good content from the bad content?”. Don’t worry too much about it. You can never really know in advance whether the content makes sense or not.

The question cannot really be answered meaningfully before you tried it. You have to absorb information first so that the „strategic neurons“ in your brain connect. So, only after the second source will you be able to reliably say how you found the first, since a comparison is only then possible.

I have two suggestions to get you started:

  1. Take a look at our two articles „What are the 6 steps of strategy formulation?“ and „How do you shift from tactical to strategic thinking?“. On the one hand, they are free 😉. On the other hand, they will build up the first information that you can then use for a comparison.
  2. Read textbooks or listen to textbooks. It may sound boring, but it’s one of the best ways to build knowledge quickly. And learn from the best along the way.

You can then go further in depth and, for example, choose seminars that make sense to you.

Learn the basics of business administration

With the newly gained knowledge of strategy and corporate strategy, there may still be a lack of substance in the area of ​​management knowledge… You have to understand how a company works.

And I don’t just mean factual knowledge, but the crystal-clear realization that there is no single “most important area” in a company, for example. Or that even the people from the accounting department contribute to the success of a company.

If I were to start all over again today, I’m hoping someone would come up to me and say, “Boy, first you learn…

  • marketing, then
  • quality management, afterwards (if you want)
  • management/company development and only then
  • controlling and corporate finances.”

(Of course, I had controlling and accounting first on the plate.🤦‍♂️)

My recommended sources for each area are:

TopicSource
MarketingYouTube (especially Adam Erhart & garyvee)
Quality managementwebinar or small book („guide for dummies“)
Leadership & managementbook “Managing, Performing, Living“ by F. Malik
Controlling and corporate financesmall book („guide for dummies“)

I probably read this book 4 or 5 times. It cracks right down to what a manager actually has to do (in any organisation) in order to be effective. There is no better book to read when you get to sit in the manager seat.

Develop a strategic test scenario

Now, that you understand the basics of corporate strategy, you can, or must, deal with reality. I’m assuming that you’re in a context where you have the chance to develop a strategy. Maybe you have your own company, maybe you have a managerial position… Something like that…

Try your first strategy.

For motivation, here is one of my favorite quotes.

“Without action, the world would still be an idea.”

Georges F. Doriot

And the most important thing? Write it down!

There is no right or wrong here. It’s your first try. It will be as successful as the first time you tried to ride a bike or go swimming. Live with it and get to work.

Gain and evaluate feedback

The hard part about writing is making a decision. You can’t leave all paths open. You need to make it clear where you want your strategy to lead. (Automatically it will lead away from somewhere…)

The next part will be exciting. You need some form of feedback as to whether or not you were thinking in the right direction. Of course, the best thing would be if you had your own company and could implement everything immediately. However, that would also take months before you see results.

The second best way in my opinion is to let your strategic concept rest. Just don’t touch it for two weeks and get busy with something else.

When you come back to it and read the pages again, there will be places where you will proudly say, “Yes, that was my thought and it is correct!”. And then, there will be those corners that you want to hide from the world because your toenails curl up as you read.

Of course, there are other good ways to get feedback:

  • Ask business partners or colleagues for feedback
  • Start a poll in a professional group
  • Ask friends to check arguments for logical consistency
  • Look for case studies that may already exist for similar companies.

Expand knowledge of strategy

Your first round of learning is over. You’re somewhat of an “amateur strategist”. The question, however, was how to become a good strategist. That means: keep going!

You will have noticed that there are areas and subtopics that you want to delve into. It may be that you want to know more about market analysis or about the practical implementation. Deepen these areas. Look for textbooks and websites and watch videos about it.

If you don’t know what to do with your energy, then I have a suggestion:

I was most fascinated by the topic of “creating and using competitive advantages”. I can absolutely recommend it.

Closely related to this is deciding what kind of strategy you use. In a small article, I have examined when the differentiation strategy works best, in more detail. It looks into the conditions that speak for or against differentiation.

Make adjustments

After you have provided your mind with new strategic nurishment again, it is worth going back to your original concept. You will look at things differently. If it’s still worth it (depending on the example), make adjustments. Because that too is strategy work. No strategy will always be right in all facets.

What works at least as well is tackling a new strategic problem.

You can probably already tell that there is a “circular logic” here. And that is also part of becoming a good strategist.

Plan-Do-Check-Act-cycle
PDCA cycle

Deepen your knowledge of individual aspects of business administration

Up to this point it has probably been more than three months. (Don’t panic: six months or a whole year would be fine as well.) Depending on how serious you are about strategy or what you have planned, it can make sense to continue working on the knowledge base.

Do you remember above? “Ongoing learning” were the words I used…

I can’t suggest any sensible individual action at this point, since what would be a good step depends heavily on the example and your prior knowledge.

But there is one thing I can seriously and generally recommend to you. If you have not just studied business administration, then serious further training in the business sphere is worthwhile. And be careful: It’s not about building depth in a single subject or area, but widths to understand how everything is connected.

“There is only one thing more expensive in the long run than education: no education.”

John F. Kennedy

Design a new strategy

Depending on your personal situation, you may still be working with your first strategy or it may have disappeared into a drawer of your desk. If it’s still there, leave it mentally. It is important that you ask yourself the following:

With the knowledge and experience I have today, would I work out the strategy the same way again?

I’m going to confidently assume a “No.” is your answer. If so, the next question immediately arises:

How would I shape this strategy today?

And then you sit down and work everything out again…

This approach may seem tiresome and not very effective. However, it provides feedback in your head on what can be done better. And that creates a learning effect.

Remembering my own learning curve, it took me about a year to get here. However, I had a lot of prior business knowledge. On the other hand, I didn’t work on my strategy all the time, but more “part-time” (in terms of time, not seriousness).

Accompany the implementation

The aspect where you will learn and grow the most is seeing the implementation of a corporate strategy in practice. You will experience the following things firsthand:

  1. It is extremely difficult to develop realistic ideas of what needs to be done and when and how, in advance.
  2. It is probably ten times as difficult to put these ideas into practice.
  3. Your ideas have to be adjusted because some assumptions are incorrect, there are better alternatives or you just didn’t think of a few things.

The last point is where the difference between strategy and tactics comes into play. You will find a further article under the link, which can give you a precise idea of ​​exactly where the differences are. Many newcomers to strategy often take tactical aspects and rephrase them “a little more strategically”. Of course, this will not lead to reaching a goal in a plannable way…

I can’t make it clear enough how important this step – accompanying the implementation – is. It will make THE difference in your development as a good strategist. I reckon that no other step will add as much to your strategic skills.

Take on a new challenge

When you’ve tried to put a strategy into action (whether successfully or not), there will come a point when you’re “done.” This does not mean that there is nothing more to do in your project.

What I mean by this is that further input from you will not further improve your strategic skills. You can still improve your strategy, but as a strategist you have reached a learning plateau.

This is the moment when you have to face a new challenge, if you want to keep growing. You need to take your skill set and apply it to an entirely new project.

This will make you better in that you recognize general connections and principles. You can bring your experiences into the activity planning and are more likely to be realistic in your assumptions. On the other hand (and this is the valuable thing about this step) you will make new mistakes and wrong assumptions. Situations will arise that you have not thought of before. And in the implementation there will be new challenges that will make you grow.

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