Strategy is an interesting topic and certainly not an uncommon one in business when it comes to planning, decisions and organizational leadership. I am going to explore some pieces of strategy, how to develop and utilize a strategy and also extend that to other walks of life.
Strategy is all about the future and planning for things to come. Or is it? Well, I think it is more than that. Strategy certainly has the future in mind but much of strategy is about executing a plan and the methods behind executing that as well. It is about timing and controlling decisions to follow a plan at the right points. The timing of strategic maneuvers is often the most important point of strategic plan and unfortunately, timing is also the thing that gets in the way the most of following a strategy successfully. Things come up, issues occur, crisis hits and needs to be tended to, there just always seems to be another urgent thing requiring your attention and time before you can get to delivering on that strategy.
Strategy often seems like its counter-intuitive with urgent day to day ongoing work. If that is the case, I say then you have either the wrong strategy or the wrong work. Strategy shouldn’t be something that requires alignment of the planets to find the time to work on, it should be built into your day, your tasks and a regular part of your time spent.
Developing a Strategy
In order to develop strategy so that it is timed as part of your regular tasks instead of a wishful “nice to have” then you need to develop it so it aligns with expectations and so you can align your focus at least in some part to that strategic work.
Developing a strategy requires that you step back from these all too common urgent fires and things you seem to “have to do” and look at where you want to develop yourself, your relationship, your business and career. It requires you to look at plans from a future perspective and to consider the aspirations you have and what are the steps and plans needed to get there. Once of the tools I’ve learned at a recent conference for strategic planning is called SOAR analysis. It stands for:
Developing a strategic plans works well by examining each of these to ensure they are included. Stop and ask yourself questions about each of these areas in your work or life and contemplate the answers so they can be used to formulate a plan.
Utilize the strengths you have to ensure you are involved in areas you are competent and able. I certainly don’t mean to limit yourself, as there is always value in stepping out of your comfort zone but strategy should be based on the strengths you have as that is your most likely area to advance the furthest as well.
This areas is to examine where there is a chance to progress and excel at. These areas might be to expand existing strengths into new areas or markets and they might be to branch into new research or areas in life that are not yet ventured into. An opportunity will offer some promise of success at the cost of some challenge to get there and is often what a strategy is formulated on.
Or as Jim Collins put it in his classic, Good to Great , big harry audacious goals. These are the areas that help formulate a strategy from some dream or vision of a more idealistic situation that is desirable and sought after. Aspirations don’t need to be future minded, they simply need to into account the dreams and ideas of what a better picture looks like, or the perfect situation for your life and career and company. They are the things you wish to happen and don’t need to be realistic or even reasonable. They help to steer you in a direction when developing a strategic plan and to not loose sight of the dream.
This area is often over-looked and it specifically helps to focus on what exactly would be going on in the way of deliverables, results and achievements if you were already in the position of the dream or visions behind a strategic plan being in place. What is happening and what results you expect when you execute the strategic plan and successfully achieve it. These results set the stage to include specifics in a plan so it can be more easily measured and tracked. The results are also a promise of what is to come if you accomplish the plan. Results are best if they are ongoing results as well, not time limited. You don’t want a strategic initiative to immediately end when you achieve the results. You want to envision and expect that you will continue to get those results.
Simplify Your Strategy
One of the things that often is the doom of a strategic plan is that it isn’t realistic and broken down into simple actions. It’s often described or outlined as some lofty ambition that seems impossible to achieve and there is no obvious way to attach to the plan and become a part of it. This is why simplifying it necessary so it can easily be understood, accepted and engaged into. Strategy needs to become a part of normal tasks and it definitely needs to simplified so that it won’t suffer the urgent distractions offset that so easily kill strategy and meaningful tasks. A simple strategy is one that becomes regular, easy and constantly makes visible the value and progress towards that strategic endpoint. This may be by describing it in a way that connects it with your existing work or by making known the advantages of putting meaningful work before mundane and urgent tasks that occur.
Changing your mindset to follow a more strategic set of maneuvers can be very difficult. For that, you must simplify it down to easier tasks and smaller pieces so that you’re not overwhelmed.
Strategy Day by Day
With a well understood strategy and having it broken down into smaller pieces you can then examine how to build strategic tasks into each and every day. Strategy should not be separated as a seldom activity or event, it needs to fit into regular day to day actions so it becomes natural. Strategy in business needs to involve all employees in some way and engage them by being part of their work. For your own strategy in life or career, you need to ensure you have work that fits in some way your strategic plan so that you are working toward that accomplishment on a regular basis.
If your strategic actions are truly most important, its really a good idea to do them first. Work away at them before anything else and put off the urgent fires until you have done something towards your strategic goals.
Strategy Answers Tough Questions
This section goes hand in hand with fitting strategy in day by day but it specially about controlling and responding to questions with your strategy in mind. Distractions are going to come up, fires will never go away completely but you can respond to them differently. What if you use your strategy to provide the answers to tough questions on actions plans, firefighting and urgent requests. Use the strategy to respond to others when they request your time or service. Ask them or for their help to decide if it is really more important than your critically important strategic plans and why it is more important that that work if something seems urgent.
I’ve personally learned that nearly nothing is as urgent as it seems and I’ve been lucky to develop a habit of analyzing requests with a longer term mindset. I’m a product architect, researcher and product development manager in my day job and those areas tie in heavily with strategic plans so I’ve been able to adopt a strategy first attitude and response system. I rarely put attention to urgent requests because my main work strategies are about the quality products I’m involved in building and quality never comes fast or without solid planning. Obviously not everyone has this same strategy and some may actually have a strategy around responding quickly in their role so then responses and expectations change but it can still be done with a strategic factor in answering those tough questions of what and when to do things. The short answer for any of these tough questions when a well drafted strategic plan exists is to always put the things that align best with a strategy before other new or urgent items. This can only be done when a solid strategy exists, it is well understood and you are willing to execute it consistently, instead of just making it and not then actually following it.
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