By the early 2000s, British Cycling hadn’t won an Olympic medal for almost 100 years and had never earned a Tour de France victory. Its reputation for mediocrity was so widespread that a top bicycle manufacturer wouldn’t even sell to the Brits, fearing that it might hurt sales.
But this was all before Team Sky.
Team Sky, a team associated with British Cycling, swaggered onto the cycling scene in 2010 and changed everything. Two years after the team’s formation, British cyclists set nine Olympic records, seven world records at the London Olympics and had successfully won the Tour de France – that year, and in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
So, how did the Brits achieve such an impressive turn around, winning five of the last six Tour de Frances after having never before seized the holy grail of cycling? An unforeseen cycling wunderkind wasn’t to thank, nor the recruitment of promising foreign cyclists. It was all thanks to a strategy: the aggregation of marginal gains. Team Sky’s manager, Sir Dave Brailsford, determined that if the team could improve upon enough small factors, even by 1 percent, then together these small improvements would bring about victory. His staff examined every possible factor: nutrition, equipment, recovery, training, rest, psychology, and more. Some of their “marginal gains” include controlling riders’ rest environments by traveling with individually-assigned memory foam mattresses and pillows, assigning staff members to check into hotels early so they can deep clean the rooms and ensure that absolutely no dust is present, developing their own helmets and bikes for optimum drag coefficients, researching the most effective hydration strategy, and introducing the concept of cool down rides to the sport as a whole. It all worked.
By challenging cycling’s status quo and considering an entirely new take on how to achieve victory, Brailsford’s strategic thinking catapulted his formerly unremarkable team into its respected spot in the history of cycling.
What is strategic thinking’s place in business?
Strategic thinking is defined as “the ability to come up with effective plans in line with an organization's objectives within a particular economic situation.” Effective strategic thinkers analyze potential risks and identify opportunities.
“Great strategic thinkers challenge conventional thinking by asking more questions, embracing conflict and encouraging debate,” says Darren Robinson, Badenoch + Clark’s Regional Head of Belgium & Luxembourg. They also perform short- and long-term planning by:
- Understanding their organization’s overall vision
- Measuring that vision against current market realities and trends
- Determining how to achieve the vision by identifying top priorities and mapping out milestone goals along the way
“Without a strategic mindset it’s virtually impossible to strike the right balance between long-term positioning and short-sighted tactical and operational decisions,” says Leif Einar Feiring, Badenoch + Clark’s Regional Head of the Nordics.
How do you foster strategic thinking in your workforce?
“Get your people out of the habit of thinking in silos,” Feiring advises. “Strategic thinking grows stronger when we talk with others, discuss and listen to their knowledge and point of view.” Feiring notes that it’s often too easy to focus on day-to-day business operations, so he suggests regularly ensuring that employees understand overall strategical goals—and clients’ goals.
Ways to stimulate strategic thinking:
- Encourage employees to subscribe to and read industry publications and blogs to help them keep up with the big picture.
- Organize internal roundtable networking events. Mix members of different departments together to discuss a predetermined set of topics relevant to company goals and challenges.
- Plan a hackathon. Some forward-thinking companies have begun hosting internal annual hackathons to encourage colleagues of various roles and departments to collaborate on either solving operational challenges or creating new service or product offerings. Ask hackathon teams to present their ideas following the event.
“At the least, litmus test your own operational tasks against your strategy, and thus sharpen your strategic perspective by incorporating it into your teams’ daily work,” Feiring suggests.
At Badenoch + Clark, we understand the importance of thinking strategically. Recruiting and hiring strategic thinkers both for our own organization and for our clients is always a top priority. In fact, it’s part of the reason we’ve given our business a fresh new look and feel–something not limited to our logo, but reflective of our commitment to always keep our clients’ goals in mind when helping with their short- and long-term hiring strategies.
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