According to Wikipedia, strategy is from the Greek word meaning “art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship” and is defined as: a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.
This concept of uncertainty will most certainly apply to both work AND life. For that reason, it’s important to understand the 7 keys to successful strategic thinking AND workflow management. If you’re going to get things done, you’ve got to know how to maximize this process.
Most strategic thinking and planning sessions are an attempt to improve or increase certain activities. If you’re planning a new product launch ago work, or talking about an upcoming vacation with your partner, you’re “creating” a strategy. However, without careful planning and consideration, strategic thinking sessions can often up having very little effect on individuals’ performance; or worse, they can de-motivate certain people who now think there is even MORE to do, when they didn’t have enough time before.
Here are seven keys to a successful strategic planning implementation:
1. It has to be ambitious but possible.
Ensure the outcome is achievable – and reasonable. The overall mission should be aggressive; it should mean something significant to everyone involved. However, those stakeholders need also to believe with their heads AND their hearts that the strategic vision, the experience you’re going after, is achievable.
2. Examine all options.
Consider ALL the paths to get there. The moment you identify a “place/way you want to be” and share that with your team/group/family, human nature demands that everyone start working to close the gap between where they are now, and where you want to be. Schedule regular sessions where individuals get to share their ideas, as off-the-wall as they may be, of ways to achieve your goals.
Align the strategic vision with the business (or personal) goals. A strategic plan must complement the goals that have been identified and agreed upon specific to individual and group performance. Every strategic thinking session should include a review of the “When we get there…” mission of the group.
4. No surprises.
Don’t surprise people, be transparent. Each person involved must understand how their performance and production impacts the overall strategic plan. Everyone needs to know how their progress will be measured, and (more importantly) how to get back on track if/when they find themselves distracted and off-mission.
Engage executive sponsorship and engagement. If you’re planning a family vacation, who needs to “buy in” to the overall idea of that trip? If you’re planning the release of a new product, who are all the sponsors (and stakeholders) involved in creating a successful launch? The more engaged everyone involved is in the process and the outcome, the more successfully you’ll implement that strategy.
6. Keep everyone posted.
Publicize the programs and the progress along the way. Contrary to popular believe, most leaders (and parents too!) don’t like surprises. As an entrepreneur, I don’t want to know at the last minute that our accounts-receivable is out of control. As a husband, I don’t want to come home from a business trip to find that our kitchen sink is clogged. Likewise, I want to know about the progress that is being made AS it’s happening. Make it easy for people involved to check in on the status of the strategic vision.
7. Adjust and keep moving.
Celebrate the wins, learn from the losses and move on smarter than before. In business, and in life, there is a tendency to finish something and quickly move on to the next thing. Before you do that, click “pause” and gather everyone involved in the decision making and action process. Acknowledge the effort, the attention to detail, and the success of achieving that strategy. Also, pay special attention to those who bring up “issues” of what went wrong, or what they’d do differently next time.
Strategic thinking at work and in life should be carefully designed to encourage, recognize and reward effort. They should also make it easy for people involved to find where they could (should they want) apply extra effort that might stand out through the entire process. Do not pretend that talking about goals, or handing out tasks is enough to get everyone involved to buy into the overall strategic direction.
Use the seven factors above to analyze and design your next strategic thinking session before you start spending extra time on tasks and projects that might have an overall negative net impact on your goals.