Zimbabwe needs cool strategic thinkers

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As a follow up to the thought-provoking article titled ‘Of Coolness, Clarion Calls‘ which appeared in The Standard of January 12, I thought Zimbabwe needs cool strategic thinkers to take the country forward.

Guest Column by Hardson Kwandayi

It is very common to hear many people saying that Zimbabwe needs good strategies to escape from the current economic and political quagmire. Others say that apart from having strategies, Zimbabwe needs strategic thinkers, but what is not clear is the extent to which the concept of strategic thinking is understood by the generality of the people. Since the concept appears elusive for many a people including scholars, I thought I should share a few thoughts with readers especially on the main difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning.

This is important because in my view some of our problems as a country are due to lack of strategic thinking not just planning. Other countries have excelled because they are well endowed with strategic thinkers – who think and meditate, looking for solutions to solve critical and relevant national problems.

A lot of research world-wide has identified lack of strategic thinking among top leaders and management as a major barrier to organisational performance. Where there is strategic thinking, better decisions have been made and greater value provided to stakeholders and clients. For example, Econet’s leadership appears to employ strategic thinking in its business ventures as evidenced by their ever-growing and successful business. Several East Asian countries popularly known as the Asian Tigers also appear to apply strategic thinking in their public sector management as demonstrated by their excellence in economic development.

However, some of our private and public sector organisations in Zimbabwe appear clueless and void of strategic thinking. There are several possible reasons for this lack of strategic thinking. These include lack of understanding of strategic thinking as a concept, the wrong assumption that strategic planning translates into achievement of organisational goals, and dearth of strategic thinking among organisational leaders, both in government and the private sector.

In short, there is serious lack of strategic thinking at the top of most organisations in Zimbabwe. What most of us know is just to use the word “strategic” in our daily discussions and speeches. Hardly a speech or conversation ends without mentioning the word “strategic”, but it ends there.

Most organisations today have strategic plans and they feel a great sense of achievement by mere having these documents even if they rarely refer to them in their day-to-day operations. In fact, in most organisations, strategic plans are gathering dust on shelves.

Most of these plans were just designed to meet statutory requirements. One main reason for this state of affairs is that most of these strategic plans were prepared by consultants, some of whom just “cut and pasted” strategic plans of other organisations with minor adjustments here and there. Such strategic plans are not very useful because they were not derived from internal strategic thinking of leadership and management of their respective organisations.

My view is that strategic planning consultants should train management to be strategic thinkers and then allow the managers to formulate their strategic plans based on their continuous strategic thinking.

The ability to think strategically has long been considered a requirement for top management. However, as the complexity of the global environment increases, the ability to think strategically is also now required at even lower levels of organisations.

The main purpose of strategic thinking is to discover novel, imaginative strategies that ensure competitive advantage of an organisation. A strategy can simply be viewed as a course of action to achieve given goals. Strategic thinking is the hard work and glue necessary to bring ideas and issues together in order to enable planning, decision-making, and communication to take place. Kevin Yousie defines strategic thinking as a frame of mind, set of processes and range of competencies whereby individuals understand the strategic direction in which their organisation is headed, know the relevant and situational strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. Strategic thinkers also constantly scan the environment to identify opportunities and threats that should be pro-actively addressed.

Another way to understand the mindset of strategic thinkers is to look at the nature of questions they constantly ask. A strategic thinker will continuously ask questions such as — what is our vision and mission, what are our short and long-term goals, what is the local and global situation and how does it impact on our vision and mission, what are the key strategic or critical issues we must address in order to ensure a competitive advantage as firm or country?

10 COMMENTS

  1. Changamire you raised an important topic about one of the major causes of the country’s problems. However, you failed to elaborate more with specific examples of strategic thinking failures and case studies of where it was a success. For example, you could have mentioned the unbudgeted war vet payments or the disastrous exchange controls that killed local currency through parallel market and other factors. Right now it is not difficult to tell that in near future government won’t be able to pay teachers and soldiers. One of the tools of strategic thinking is forecasting and modelling which we don’t have in present government. I will need to write my own article to discuss case studies of successful strategic thinking. But as Nelson Mandela put it our issues are due to “tragic failure of leadership”. I can’t say it any better.

  2. Well said, Hardson. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the so called leaders have been sitting at the top of the organization for umpteen years. They have been clueless for all those years and are unaware of their shortcomings. It’s akin to the boiled frog syndrome. In my opinion we urgently need leadership renewal in many organizations.

  3. We have among the best laws on the statute books both at local & national levels but it is implementation that is woefully lacking. What we need much more of Hardson is doers – we have more than enough so-called experts who cannot execute what they propose.

  4. Strategic thinking is very difficult to impliment in Zimbabwe because those who can scan the environment and utilise it are not given the powers to do so whereas those who have the powers are void of strategic thinking.Mubikira chaiyo

  5. The moment u show your wits & practical orientation, u are in trouble. The system rather prefers pole who do not perform better than them. Masiyiwa’s challenging of the system until his court awarded license in 1998 succeeded because of real political support by Nkomo, who was among the top political leaders. Imagine if he had launched his legal challenge now, where the likes of Nkomo are no longer there and when the system corrupted the judiciary even further and where disregard of court verdicts is now commonplace ???????

  6. after reading this, tell me readers, Selling all our minerals for a loan to China for us to spent in a year, or giving all construction work to them, that is what all our strategists had come up with for the country and that is why Chinamasa was out of the country to negotiate for, I think differently, that is not strategic think is about TEAM ZANU PF, lets have other means that will see our country have more money than dispose for a song what generations will benefit, Hon, hatitengesi imba kuti vana varara nenzara nhasi, please stop. the only problem is that, decided to go it alone, you left serious Business people outside, all visionaries you were against your idea you forget their good ideas and take ideas from opportunists, who think for themselves and mindful of today not tomorrow, Thieves, Vultures and hungry lions.

  7. I don’t agree with what the writer of this article has said about the dearth of strategic thinking vis-à-vis strategic planning and the example he gave of Econet as good at strategic thinking. The cellphone is a very popular and handy gadget which has revolutionised the way we communicate, everyone wants to own one and you have to be hopelessly incompetent to fail once you get a licence in that business because it is a field which grows astronomically on its own every single second in tandem with population growth. Cellphone business is just like po*nography business, you don‘t need any strategic thinking or planning. There’s no exceptional strategic thinking involved in the business that Econet is involved in.
    The political environment in Zimbabwe is not conducive to any “strategic thinking” or “strategic planning” in any other business. People cannot have any strategies when the political environment is unstable. Mugabe and ZanuPF are hogging the political arena stifling any innovation by would-be strategic thinking. There’s very little or no strategic thinking or planning under a military dictatorship.
    There is no chance of any “strategic thinking” or “strategic planning” when people are not sure whether the electricity will be available some of the time but not all the time. Ditto when people don’t know if they will still be at work in the next six months

  8. How does Tsvangirai fit in then. I ask this because he is certainly not one known to be able to use his grey matter. Wile others are thinking Tsvangirai can be discussing about women.

  9. Gigo are you not one of the Mujuru’s mere supporter iwe. Its amai venyu vamunoti pamberi pamberi who is very very corrupt cde. Amai ava ndichabika rangu zano mira uone chete. Vanhu vose vapera pfungwa for the development of our economy coz gayawo iwe since 1980 the same old madhara vasinga de kusiyira vamwe nyika…..Democracy yematuzvi iyi. Kwete takazviramba isu..Hameno munosvero zhamba zhamba nekuchema…..muchachema until crocodile tears vamwe vachidya bedzi coz ndivo vari kutonga……

  10. There is no doubt strategic thinking is critical but as on person commented implementation is as critical. I read leaders in Zimbabwe saying we are open for business but the action is the opposite. It’s a complete waste of time to develop strategic plans if the implementation is impossible.

    I think you can look at Tanzania where strategic thinking and the environment for implementation is encouraged. Unless the victim syndrome of Zimbabwe’s leaders gets out of the way nothing can happen with strategic thinking.

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