If you read about strategy or strategic planning in business publications, you would think that the only people qualified to claim strategic planning and strategic thinking as part of their jobs have lots of letters after their names and sit in a corner office.
When I first took the StrengthsFinder assessment, my top strength was strategy. I couldn’t see it. Then one of my staff said, “You get this look on your face, you start waving your hands, then you fill a white board, and we have our work laid out for the next two years.” I hadn’t thought of strategy that way, but she was right.
There are volumes written about strategic planning processes, but the truth is that strategic thinking isn’t confined to the corner office. No matter what your job is or where you sit in an organization, you can increase your success if you think strategically.
The following are three principles to apply:
Understand what you’re trying to accomplish and why
Clearly define success, and keep that vision front and center as a touchstone for every decision you make. The definition of success should include more than just the tactical details of target date, budget, features and functions.
You need to understand the value of what you’re working towards. Are you trying to beat the competition, improve service levels, or get something implemented really quickly? The definition of success should be clear, value-based and well understood by everyone working on the initiative.
I was brought in to manage a program that had been stalled for over two years. The objective was to bring inhouse a product line provided by a partner company. The team working on the program had decided to start out by implementing the back office functions first. Their plan was to take the few customers we had and move their accounts to a vendor-based system. Two weeks after I joined the program, a new senior business manager for this product line was hired. He took one look at the scope and said no, we’re not in this business until we sell the product and originate the accounts. Merely implementing the back office did not equal success. Everything about the program changed from that point forward.
Build around your strengths
I’m a huge advocate of StrengthsFinder for individual and team success because I’ve experienced firsthand that building on strengths is easier and more effective than trying to repair weaknesses. As a strategic thinker know that the fastest and most effective way to get anything done is to identify what works and do more of that.
We tend to not be conscious of things that work or go well. It’s the ‘no news is good news’ syndrome. But if you can increase awareness of what your organization does well and what works, you’ll better position yourself for success. Yes, plug the big holes that trip you up, but put your energy into building on your strengths.
Seek out and chase the game changer
If you’re facing a challenge to meet your objectives, find a game changer. In my Success 1 2 3 process, step 1 is to find a leverage point – the common element, root cause or recurring theme that keeps getting in your way. Then make that your focus, and you’ll find a lot of other work doesn’t need to be done.
That game changer is often right under your nose, but it’s being ignored or dismissed because it’s too big, or too complicated, or too expensive, or conversely, so obvious and simple that it’s impact is undervalued.
Identify that game changer and begin to chip away at it. Don’t play small by limiting the scope of your efforts to only those things you can control, like just implementing the back office functions in the example above.
Don’t let the Strategy snobs keep you from being a strategic thinker. Begin by developing a clear vision of what defines success for your activities and understand the underlying value that you’re creating. You’ll then be playing at a different level.
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Pam Norton, Career Coach and founder of TransitionSpark Coaching, helps individuals and teams get more success and fulfillment from their careers by identifying and leveraging their strengths.