I have been thinking about how I can be most helpful to managers. I recently wrote an article and created a podcast on “Confident Verging on Cocky: Evolution vs Revolution”. The purpose of this was to explain how important it is for managers to drive evolutionary change, how rare it is that managers drive revolutionary change, and how to get there if you want to be one of these managers. I hope this was valuable, but I don’t think it is enough. I want to share my thoughts on how to become strategic.
Before getting into the details, let’s start with a definition.
relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them.LEXICO Powered by Oxford
I like this because it talks about both “identification” and “means”. To be a strategic manager, you don’t get to throw out ideas that sound good but are impractical. You need to suggest things that might be a stretch but are viable.
It might be obvious, but being strategic is an evolution for a manager. Managers start out being asked to be tactical, to work with their team to deliver projects and tasks. It is incredibly important early in a manager’s career to do a great job tactically. But over time, it is valuable for the manager and the company to become more strategic.
Before I jump into what it takes to be strategic, I will first talk about what you need to do to earn the right or opportunity. I will follow this with the preparation that you need. And then finally how you become strategic.
Earn the Right
In order to earn the right to be strategic, you must nail the basics of managing. You need to be viewed as a good manager. Each company will be slightly different in terms of what they view as the most important aspects of a good manager. In some cases, it may be all about the people, in others, your ability to deliver, and in others, how technically capable you are.
Regardless of what is most important, you should focus on being a solid and well-rounded manager. You should focus most on substance and less on style. You need to ensure that your company’s leaders view you as having the key attributes or capabilities of a good manager.
- Be good at managing your team. You need to hire good people, develop them, make sure they are working on the right tasks, develop them, handle underperformers, and so on.
- Quickly make good decisions.
- Take responsibility. Don’t be afraid.
- Deliver, and where possible overachieve.
- Build relationships with your peers, subordinates, and leadership.
- Support the company’s mission, vision, and culture.
- Have a good attitude. You must not be viewed as a whiner. You need to be viewed as a team player.
This is a long list! One last thing related to earning the right to be strategic. You need to gain trust. The list above will help you to do this.
Once you have nailed the basics, you need to prepare yourself to be strategic. There are a number of very important areas where you need to spend time and build skills.
- Understand your market and industry. You need to understand the competition. You need to understand how your products are positioned, what you do well, and where you are behind.
- Develop an affinity with your customers. You need to understand their use cases, their challenges, and the opportunities that your company has to help them.
- Understand how your company works. How things get done. How decisions are made. Who the influencers are. See my posts/podcasts on Office Politics.
- Make sure that you build relationships with some influencers in the company.
- Understand technology developments taking place in your company and the larger trends and innovations taking place outside.
To be clear, you don’t need to be great at everything on this list, but it is important to have a reasonable level of competence in all areas. If possible, deeper in at least one.
You have earned the right and prepared yourself. Here are the keys to becoming strategic.
- Take a larger (and longer) perspective. Think more broadly than just your team or your organization. Position your feedback, input, and ideas from the perspective of what your customers need and how they move the company forward.
- Be grounded yet confident and positive. Bring good energy. This is important in conversation, but critical when selling your ideas.
- Challenge the status quo. You have earned this by doing a great job. You have what I call a “dirty jersey.” What that refers to is a football player who has been in the game, battling. The coach will listen to the suggestions from a player with a dirty jersey as they really understand what is going on.
- Make sure you are realistic. Think about people, process, tools, and technology. Find ways to get things done with existing resources. You do not want to be seen as constantly asking for more resources. Note that this does not mean doing more with less. You will have to make tradeoffs, and there are times when you can ask for more. You just have to be careful.
- New revenue is king. Constantly think about ways to drive more value for customers and ultimately more revenue. This is important whether the company is doing well or struggling. Keep in mind that companies do not want to cut to achieve profitability, they would rather grow revenue.
- While revenue is king, saving money, being more efficient, and allowing for more scale are next on the list. Keep this in mind as well and look for opportunities.
Moving from being tactical to strategic is gradual. The more you are able to do the items above, the further and faster you will go!
There are three important aspects of becoming strategic.
- Earn the right to be strategic by demonstrating good management skills.
- Get yourself ready by understanding your company, competition, industry, customers, and technology.
- Start doing the things that will make you strategic. These include taking a large perspective, being positive, challenging the status quo, being realistic, looking for ways to drive revenue, or identifying opportunities to reduce costs.
You can do this!