You do not have to be the CEO of your company to set a strategy. As a manager, as a team leader, and as an individual contributor—nearly everything you do might benefit from a strategy. In fact, in many employee performance reviews, a failure to adopt strategic thinking is often a roadblock that keeps otherwise qualified candidates from scoring a promotion.
Strategic thinking is part of our personality traits; some of us are big picture thinkers while others do better focusing on the details. Big-picture thinkers might fight this article downright silly. But for us detail-oriented leaders who do not naturally take the big-picture view, a framework that guides our focus can be helpful in formulating our priorities.
Formulating a strategy involves deciding who or what you should be, how to best deliver value, and the plan of action that will achieve the desired goal. A clear strategy does three things:
- Defines a focus area—indicates where to direct effort
- Explains how to best utilize assets and resources
- Sets boundaries for what lies outside of scope or capability
Setting a strategy is quite similar to a problem-solving exercise:
Define the Problem
Identify the problem that is keeping you from achieving a goal. Sometimes your problem is clear and all you need to do is get started on the solution. Other times, however, your problem is that you have selected the wrong goal. A SWOT Analysis can confirm you are answering the correct question or help you get clarification if your objective is vague.
Stretch goals can be intimidating. One-year, two-year, or five-year goals might seem so far away. These are emotional reactions to a goal and can create problems. To get away from that, structure your problem logically. Break a big, seemingly insurmountable objective into smaller bite-size pieces. Create short-term targets and action items. Going into problem-solving mode can be one of the best ways to keep fear and performance anxiety at bay.
Analyzing a problem requires not only systematic thinking, but also creativity. If you don’t consider yourself particularly creative, asking why or how–again and again–is an easy way to generate multiple hypotheses and get to the root cause of a problem quickly. Collect supporting data and begin making the case for the solution.
The solution is the plan of action that solves the problem that has been keeping you from attaining your goal. The solution is your new strategy. It defines who or what you should be, how to best deliver value, and the actions that will achieve your goals.