“You need to think more ‘strategically’” has to be some of the worst possible feedback you can get from a manager. In my experience, it is typically void of any direction on how to actually do what you are being asked to do. Even worse, it implies that somehow you should magically understand what strategy is and how to apply it in your role and career. Your boss might as well advise you to get a bit “taller”?!?
Sadly, even among strategy experts, the basics and methods are regularly debated. So to get this feedback about thinking more strategically in a performance review, can be awfully confusing. Unless you have gone to get your MBA, it is likely you have had no formal education (it is highly probable that your manager hasn’t either, but let’s not focus on them right now). As far as I know, in my own experience, corporations are not investing in this skill either, which makes it highly ironic that this skill is so closely tied to performance management systems.
And while I don’t claim to be a deep expert (still learning), based on a lot of great information now available, here are some suggestions I have in case you are dealt this feedback:
- Consider “WHY” your position/organization exists – I realize I will sound like a broken record here, but knowing WHY you do what you do is a key step in being able to identify your strategic value to the business. Challenge yourself to write down the WHY, HOW, and WHAT of your role and your team’s role. If you need help on how to do that, watch this video by Simon Sinek: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en.
- “Connect the dots” between your performance deliverables and the business’ strategy – Part of understanding WHY you do what you do is understanding how you can influence and help the growth of the overall business. While it is not easy to go “from increase shareholder value” to your personal goal, spend the time to learn how your goals help create growth and new opportunities for the larger organization. While this should be intuitive, the key is knowing that the priority is the business first, then your goals. Sadly the structure of many performance management systems have reversed this.
- Develop a longer term view of your role – As Roger Martin and A. G Lafley describe in “Playing to Win: http://www.amazon.com/Playing-Win-Strategy-Really-Works/dp/142218739X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432515479&sr=8-1&keywords=playing+to+win”, strategy is “an integrated set of choices to uniquely position the firm to create SUSTAINABLE advantage and superior value relative to the competition”. The key word here is “sustainable”…in other words, consistently over a long time period. Give yourself permission to envision the impact your role could have in two years….or five years. What you should find are gaps between what you are doing today to add value and what you believe you could be doing. In those gaps are the roadmaps to follow, helping you to focus your efforts and see other areas where you need to develop. It will also show you processes and habits that you need to design out of your role to increase your effectiveness.
- Learn to say “NO” – This goes back to the old idea of “urgent” vs. “important”. Ultimately as you understand “WHY” you do what you do and how that furthers the overall businesses objectives, you will have to prioritize what you are doing. There will always be tons of wonderful initiatives and ideas to participate in…some will certainly help you along as you increase your impact. Other ideas while interesting will not. Choose carefully and learn to respectfully say no to participating every project offered to you. This will not be easy, but carefully consider how projects will tie into strategic goals once you have them identified.
Strategic thinking is a truly valuable skill that tied with leadership and creativity can have a significant influence on your career and the people on your team and those that you serve. There is more information being published today and if you don’t know where to begin reading, again, I recommend the book, Playing to Win and I would strongly encourage you to follow the Harvard Business Review blogs at www.hbr.org. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and explore…if you hit resistance, it probably means you have found someone that can’t answer the questions themselves.
P.S. Managers, please do consider the ideas shared here before giving out such feedback. Our job as leaders is to help enlighten our teams on all of the points above and making the critical connections that not only connect individual and team strategy to the overall business, but will inspire our people innovate on their own when they see the impact their roles can make.
What recommendations would you have for someone that is wanting to grow their strategic thinking capabilities?
Here’s this week’s 5 for 5 articles:
Are You Solving The Right Business Problem? Here Are 5 Ways To Get To Your Question Zero – by Ana Andjelic – via Fast Company
SO WHAT: A great pairing with this week’s 5 for 5 blog…..to have an effective strategy make sure you are solving the right problem.
Tags: Creativity, Strategy
Stop This One Bad Habit and You’ll Increase Productivity 40 Percent – by Minda Zetlin – via INC.
SO WHAT: There is no such thing as multitasking…you can only do one task at a time. Great ideas. I have implemented recommendation #2 recently and I keep a blank piece of paper immediately next to me and while I work as ideas come up I jot them down quickly and return to the task.
You don’t know Lefsetz? – by Seth Godin – via @thisissethsblog
SO WHAT: This article really challenged me to think about who the “Lefsetz” is in my industry and really understand how they are changing things.
These Are The New Rules of Work – by Ross Perlin – via Fast Company
SO WHAT: An interesting take on where work is headed in the future: freelancing, on call 24-7…….how is your work changing?
The Six Best Tips From ‘On Writing Well’ – by James Altucher – via Medium
SO WHAT: Whether you are a writer or not these tips will help you become more creative and a better all around leader.