Path to Business Acumen Excellence

February 18, 2019

Systemic + Strategic Thinking = Path to Business Acumen Excellence

 “We live in webs of interdependence”

What path can one take to achieve business acumen excellence? Successful business people are adept at strategic planning and execution, and therefore, it’s a given that this is a vital business acumen building block. With this, the process of planning and executing strategy appears fairly straight-forward: identify goals that position the company for future success and implement a plan to get there.  A team is formed, deadlines are set, and eventually, everyone will have their marching orders.

However, as anyone who’s sat around the table knows, strategic planning often veers off the rails for a variety of reasons. Systems science explains how approaching strategy with systemic thinking helps avoid that fate.

Systemic thinking develops insights from evaluating complex interrelationships and detects patterns that affect a business. It’s a holistic perspective that compliments the more linear approach strategic planners often utilize.

“Strategic thinking is about where you are, where you want to be, identify the gap and create the alternate approaches to anticipate and provide solutions; whereas system thinking looks at the whole pictures, the interaction and relationships holistically, and involves the sequential alignment of a series of steps in already identified strategic approaches,” says Pearl Zhu, author of the Digital Master book series.

Peter Senge examined this concept is his book: The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. He argues every system in an organization depends on one another to succeed. We live in webs of interdependence,” explains Senge in an interview with

“If I’m not prepared to challenge my own mental models, then the likelihood of finding non-obvious areas of leverage are very low.”

Without incorporating systemic thinking with strategic efforts:

  • Teams become siloed.
  • Organizational goals cede in importance to individual or department initiatives.
  • The same mistakes are made, as leaders fail to discern where breakdowns in communication and/or execution occur.
  • Improving the customer experience becomes the responsibility of a few, instead of the whole.

Senge and others contend the most-successful executives excel at systemic thinking.  Its integration with strategic planning hinges on Senge’s belief that the expertise and experience of the collective is far more valuable than that of a CEO or even the entire c-suite.

In other words, the strategic planning process should require every level of leadership to meet with teams to solicit their input. Not only does this create buy-in, but taking the time to listen to all the players – with the purpose of learning – improves the process and builds trust.

“You need to get different people, from different points of view, who are seeing different parts of the system to come together and collectively start to see something that individually none of them see,” says Senge.

Angela Montgomery, co-founder of Intelligent Management, agrees that taking a holistic approach to business systems improves outcomes. “Strategy is about identifying a direction and creating robust solutions to move coherently in that direction, and it involves identifying the systemic changes that need to be created.”

To cultivate higher levels of business acumen excellence, there are some questions that can be asked to help apply systemic thinking to strategy:

  1. Is every level of staff engaged with the planning process, from executives to the front lines?
  2. Does every decision consider how it will affect other departments or possibly interfere with their objectives?
  3. Do goals align with the company’s talent resources?
  4. Does everyone in your organization know what its vision is and why it matters?

Action points during the strategic planning process:

  1. Looking at the broad business horizon to derive the most suitable strategic goals.
  2. Linking those goals to anticipated changes in the markets.
  3. Deriving and integrating the best marketing mix model consistent with the strategic goals.
  4. Establishing tracking metric to determine success.

Markets notice when systemic analysis contributes to an organization’s strategy. As cross-disciplinary considerations and communication become the norm, and every person’s role is transformed into a customer-facing one, superior products and services result.

Are you wondering how to further develop your business acumen skills? Join us on the path to business acumen excellence by participating in our four prong business acumen professional development program. Learn more about how our training program works, and contact us today.