What is strategic decision-making?

This blog post is a part of a larger Strategic decision-making collection I am constantly adding to and is a logical place to start.

Get on the same page

Starting with a definition is not some theoretical “good to have” activity but a very pragmatic act of getting on the same page and framing outcomes through shared language.

What’s your definition?

To steep your mind into the topic, jot down your definition of strategic decision-making, without spending too much time thinking about it.

In the next two sections, you can compare your rough answer with the dictionary definition and then with my pragmatic definition. Then you may choose to amend your own thinking any way you’d like. 

Dictionary definition

Typically, when we look for a definition, we start by looking it up in the dictionary. 

The dictionary definition of decision-making is “the thought process of selecting a logical choice from the available options.” 

Further, strategic is defined as “a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal ... involving science and art.” 

(An interesting fact: the word “strategic” is among the top 1% of words whose meaning is checked online.) 

How close is this to your own definition? 

Pragmatic definition

I propose a more pragmatic working definition reflecting the practical aspects of operating in a corporate environment. 

Strategic decision-making aims to address business challenges or capture opportunities through the systematic process of:

  1. Asking questions,

  2. Aligning decision-makers around their answers by explicitly exploring and debating alternative solutions and trade-offs, and 

  3. Creating the conviction to act on decisions.

Note that this definition broadens the dictionary definition of strategic decision-making:

  • FROM the notion that it is about “selecting a logical choice”…

  • TO the notion that it is about aligning around an alternative AND creating the conviction to act. 

In other words, strategic decision-making is not just about finding the right answer; it is also about convincing others to do something about it. Even the most brilliant solution to a problem will have zero impact on business performance if no one acts on it. 

When you frame the definition this way, you will think differently about what strategic decision-making entails.

What is your experience?

You probably already have quite a bit of experience with strategic decision-making — maybe even more than what you give yourself credit for. You may have played one of these roles in the past: 

  • Project leader of a cross-functional team charged with developing recommendations

  • Executive making a decision based on their team’s recommendations

  • Analysis owner

  • Information contributor 

  • Uninvolved party who is impacted by a decision made by others

  • Observer

Reflect on your own experience and use it to evaluate the pragmatic definition I propose.

Then, explore some of the other blog posts in this series on Strategic decision-making.

Originally written by Aneta Key in February 2016. Last edited October 2018.