Demonstrating strategic thinking in everyday situations

Here are three sets of behaviours listed under a strategic thinking selection criterion.

  • Objectively thinks through problems from various angles, assesses risk and identifies solutions
  • Demonstrates originality of thought and the capacity to develop innovative solutions
  • Critically evaluates information and demonstrates sound judgement in decision-making

These are in typical criteria language: multisyllabic and flashy-sounding.

Yet, these behaviours are used in everyday situations, be they work or non-work.

With Christmas only a few weeks away, let’s imagine we’re thinking about the big day.

One way to approach the day is to make it up as we go along. This might include a hurried stop at the supermarket and liquor store, but little else.

Or we could take a more considered approach.

I’m going to explore preparations in terms of my own experience and observations about what Christmas family gatherings can be like. It is a fictitious story. As I do so, watch for how these criteria behaviours, and others, are used.

‘I have a large extended family. Each year we take turns as to where we meet up for the big day. This year it’s my turn. I’m not too thrilled about this, as so much can go wrong, but it’s an important year. Granddad’s in his 90s, his health is not good, and he could go at any time. So I want as many people to come as possible so that it’s a memorable occasion for Granddad, as well as for everyone else, it could be the last time people have a chance to be together and appreciate the size of our clan.

There’s lots to think about. With all those cousins, kids and grandkids, they could make a big mess if we have lunch inside. Perhaps we could have a barbeque. That will only work if the weather’s good. When I was a kid the day always made 100 degrees. Now you could find it snows. Still, it’s easier outside if there’s spillage. And if the weather is not so good, we can use the family room as a back-up. If we clear the garage, then that would make an extra space for the kids.

Outside also means we can avoid arguments about what’s acceptable. Mum insists on not watching TV, or using computers or phones during meals, but I know at least one cousin regularly eats their meals round the telly. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a list of jobs to keep the kids busy and teach them to be helpers.

Thinking about the barbeque, I’ll need to get the gas bottle checked. We don’t want anything nasty to happen. Not like the year the pudding exploded when the pot of water on the stove dried up, spreading the pudding across the kitchen ceiling. A memorable year that was.

Perhaps I could get one of those rotisserie spits I saw advertised at the weekend. We haven’t had one of those before, so that would be different. I must start a list of jobs. Schedule visit to Bunnings. But how will I get it home? I know I’ll ask cousin Frank, he’s got a trailer. Plus we call him Ikea King because he’s so clever at putting DIY things together.

What to put on the spit. Perhaps a pig. But wait, do any of the family not eat pork? That reminds me, Karin will be coming and she’s a hard-core vegan. So, I better check who else has dietary requirements.

And then there’s cousin Jeremy. He’ll likely bring Josh. They were married earlier this year, Could be tricky if Uncle Sam and Aunt Martha come, as they’ll be fresh from morning Mass. Better remove the framed wedding photo from the lounge room.

And what about cousin Jack, he always wants to watch some sport, gets tipsy as the day goes by, until he’s quite belligerent by sundown. I’ll have to work out a way to manage the flow of drinks.

Then there’s always that problem of presents. No matter what instructions are issued, some people always bring more presents than they should. It’s so embarrassing to not be able to reciprocate. So that’s another job, schedule a trip to Aldi’s to see what small goodies I can have on standby…’

What behaviours does this saga cover?

  • Goal setting/creating a vision: creating a memorable occasion
  • Thinks through problems: cousin Jack, presents, Jeremy and Josh
  • Delegating: cousin Frank
  • Tapping expertise: cousin Frank
  • Identifying risks: gas bottle, cousin Jack, Jeremy and Josh/Uncle Sam and Aunt Martha, dietary requirements
  • Planning, scheduling: Bunnings, Aldi’s
  • Assessing options: eat inside or outside
  • Coming up with new ideas: rotisserie spit
  • Consider rules and obligations: not eating around the telly, presents
  • Coming up with solutions to problems: buying the rotisserie
  • Sound judgement in decision-making: alternative if the weather changes.

If you were writing a response to the above criterion, this example would cover all three behaviours and much more.

This list of behaviours is from a recently advertised EL1 position. The language is flashier for this level, and the example to demonstrate the behaviours would be work-related and more complex. The point is though, that anyone at any level can talk the language of these behaviours and use examples to demonstrate those behaviours.

The difference is degree rather than a binary, i.e. EL1s do these behaviours and lower levels don’t. At any level, people are expected to demonstrate these behaviours to some degree.

Think in terms of a continuum. You might do these behaviours in situations where there are fairly clear boundaries around what you can and can’t do, and when you reach, or go beyond the boundary, you refer to someone else. Your work is perhaps more black-and-white, but not totally. There will be times when it’s not entirely clear what to do. An EL1’s work covers a broader range, and there is more ambiguity, greater complexity, and things are not always clear cut. They have more authority about the range of decisions they make.

The other point to consider with the above example is the transferability of skills from one context to another. There may be times when your work experience does not provide you with sufficient material to make a solid case for a criterion. Yet you may have a wealth of experience outside work to draw on, such as the fictional example above.

What other criteria could the above example be used for, perhaps with some change in emphasis and greater detail? It could certainly be used to demonstrate:

  • Project management
  • Relationship management
  • Teamwork
  • Diversity management
  • Health and safety

The lessons from this saga are:

  • Don’t underestimate the range of material you have to draw on.
  • At any level, you can demonstrate these behaviours [such as strategic thinking].
  • Keep records of your experiences.
  • Consider the transferability of your experiences.
  • Think about the full range of behaviours any example can demonstrate.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.