The art of thinking strategically

By Tariro Mutizwa, ACMA, CGMA, Regional Vice President, Africa


Our profession’s evolving place in the business world means that we need to reevaluate the way we think about our work. The traditional tasks of the finance team, with the majority of our time spent on compliance or control processes, are a thing of the past. As the business environment changes, we are going to have to step up and change to meet the new expectations placed on us, which include providing strategic insights and leadership. 

To earn our place in the new world, we must actively engage and learn new skills and new ways of thinking, beginning with developing a deep understanding of what strategy is, how we conceive it, and actualise it. This is about more than planning the route to a destination, it is about working out why that destination is the right one and evaluating other possibilities. 

As finance and accounting professionals we can add a huge amount of value to the businesses we serve when we step up and shift our focus toward offering strategic insights. Some of us are already getting ahead of the curve. Our Re-inventing finance for a digital word report found that finance departments in high-performing organisations were the most likely to be using advanced automation technologies, and the most likely to believe that finance competencies will need to change significantly in the near future. It also found that practitioners were more likely to describe their organisation as high-performing when the finance function led the way in defining and reporting strategic key performance indicators. 


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If today’s high-performing finance departments are already working on a strategic level, that is a pretty good indicator that these are the skills of the future. Stepping up and expanding our strategic thinking skills requires us to learn how to work with uncertainty and complexity. We must be creative enough to envisage where our organisations should be heading and to imagine new possibilities while evaluating current trajectories. 

What type of mental approach will enhance your strategic thinking capability? There are a myriad of answers to this question, but here are some techniques that can help you get started. 

Think about your biases

Bias in its purest form refers to the ways we subconsciously order and understand the world around us. When engaging with complex ambiguity it can limit the way we perceive situations or prevent us from seeing the flaws in or current arrangements. We must always be ready to challenge our preconceptions, so question if you are biased toward stability or suffering from confirmation bias before taking decisions. 


Try zero-based thinking

Ask yourself: Is the path that we are on now the one that we would be on if the organisation were starting this project today? Remember the sunk costs fallacy: just because resources have been invested in a particular course of action does not make it the right one. Sometimes it is right to just stop before more time, effort or money is wasted.


Embrace whole system thinking

When facing complex situations, try to look at the bigger picture. As management accountants we have an end-to-end view of our organisations, and we can use this to our advantage. We might be able to see patterns or relationships which have previously been hidden in silos and apply this insight to our strategic contributions. 

A constantly evolving business environment means we must all learn new skills and embrace new ways of thinking. This evolution provides us with the opportunity to take our place at the heart of the strategic decision-making process, and create new value for the organisations we work in. It is now time for us to step up and meet this challenge.

Tariro Mutizwa, ACMA, CGMA, Regional Vice President Africa, representing the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). Combined, AICPA & CIMA represent nearly 700,000 members, students and engaged professionals worldwide.

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