Being strategic - where do I start?
This is a focus area that comes up regularly with my clients, particularly those moving into more senior leadership roles. How can they ensure they are focusing on the areas that are strategic and most impactful rather than getting caught up in their ever growing to do list?
I also have clients who have received feedback saying they “need to be more strategic” and they are unsure what to do with this feedback. This is particularly challenging when you are part of a larger organisation. There is an overarching organisational strategy that you are tasked with executing and have limited opportunity to influence. How do you bring evidence of being strategic into your role to show you are ready for the next level?
It comes down to choices on where you spend your time, where you use the resources that you are responsible for and what you decide not to do. A key skill to develop is carving out time to check whether you are working on the right things and consider what is happening in the wider world.
Strategy vs strategic
A strategy is a plan to achieve a long term aim. Being strategic is being able to determine what are the most important parts of achieving that plan and then aligning your resources to achieve it.
Breaking this down, there are 2 key parts to focus on. One is the time horizon and the other is the context you are considering, i.e. being both outward and future focused.
In order to be strategic, i.e. making decisions that help you achieve your longer term aim, it is essential to appreciate that you don’t operate in isolation. You need to be aware of the changes that are happening in the world now and what might change in the future. This is both in terms of opportunities and risks. You need to look at what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, what new developments there are in products or technology, and consider what changes you could be making to adapt, stay ahead and compete. It is making a calculated bet on where you think the best opportunities lie given your company’s unique capabilities and limited resources.
Ultimately, as I mentioned above, it comes down to choices – what are we working on, where am I going to invest and where am I not going to focus. This means saying no or choosing not to do something. It can feel risky, you might miss a great opportunity but trying to do everything is unlikely to be successful.
It is very easy to get caught up in tasks and internal management or dealing with issues without considering if it is ultimately contributing to you meeting your longer term aim. Taking the step back to do this thinking can take time that it may feel like you don’t have in trying to keep up with your essential to do list.
I’ve written a strategy – am I done?
It is all very well having a well defined strategy, however on its own that is not enough. You need to have the resources and capabilities available, a vision and clear communication to get your team to understand, believe in and follow your strategy and be able to act on it. A supposedly brilliant strategy can sit on a powerpoint slide and not make any difference if you cannot convince those around you it is the best course of action or show a route to how it can be achieved. If your team are clear on what the strategy is, having the opportunity to challenge if they feel the work they are doing is not moving towards that aim can help you focus on the right areas too.
Happily, being strategic is not the exclusive domain of strategy consultants. They are a useful resource available to you that may support you in making decisions, however you don’t have to work in “strategy” to be strategic and it is possible to be strategic whilst not necessarily being a visionary!
First steps to being more strategic
1. Carve out time to focus
Find the right frequency for you, some people will do this weekly, others monthly or quarterly. The key is to not let the routine, tactical tasks interrupt this time to allow you to think clearly.
2. Find sources to stimulate and support you
Filter the huge variety of information out there to find sources that will challenge your thinking – engaging with different people in your industry and wider, receiving newsletters, industry reports and scanning headlines on your daily commute/dog walk etc. You will know how you best digest information.
3. Review capabilities and resources - what do you have and what do you need?
Your strategy needs to be connected to your capabilities and resources. If you need to invest to bring in new capabilities or train people in new skills, this needs to be part of the strategy and your timeline.
4. Be clear on your strategy – how it fits into the wider picture and how you communicate your vision.
The best strategies are simple for your team to understand and be able to act on and for stakeholders to support. They should know what you want to do and what you are not doing too. If you are part of a larger organisation, understand how your part of the strategy aligns to the bigger picture.
5. Review and reprioritise frequently.
Constantly check that what you and your team are working on is aligned to your strategy. Are the right things at the top of your list? Is this where you are spending your time? I found this a useful check at the end of each week as well as a more in depth review with the team on a monthly or quarterly basis. There will always be urgent things to deal with that might take you away from the focus, its important though to recognise this and reset your priorities back to your strategic aim.