Effective Business Ideas
Two Approaches: Tactical and Strategic
When should you be tactical? When strategic? The usual answer is to be tactical when looking at an issue that needs to be taken care of now and be strategic when looking at the future.
Most corporate contributors are tactical all the time. It’s what they are asked to do. It’s what they get rewarded for. It’s what they need to be to stay “on the ball.” Managers are usually contributors promoted, and hopefully promoted again, because they excel at the tactical. Guess what? They continue to be tactical. And they continue to get rewarded for “taking care of business.” However, they are also asked to be more strategic. So what do they do? They try to be strategic; they use SWOT to determine strengths, opportunities and threats (they often overlook weaknesses), and then they go back to the familiar. Tactical.
How to be Strategic
First lesson – Strategic isn’t a thing you do some of the time. It’s a way of thinking that is done all the time. Yes, even when you are being tactical. Let me illustrate this point. Imagine you are sitting at your desk right now. (You are? Good.) On your desk pad is a yellow Post-It that represents the issue you have been asked to “take care of.” Stretch out your left hand and put a finger on the issue. Look at this issue and now think about how you will solve it. Use your usual tools; teams, task forces, consultants, etc. and get it done and get your pat on the back.
Works well and feels good also. Now your manager asks if you considered how this solution fits with the units’ overall strategic plans. What do you do now? Do you know the strategic plans? Did you consider the plans? Most likely, but you probably did so as an after thought. How could we improve this picture? Remember your other hand?
Sit back at your desk and keep the left hand pointed at the yellow Post-It. Now use your right hand to bring in other ideas. Still work with your tactical tools, teams and all. But bring in some new tools. Your right hand can be pulling out your strategic plan. It can also dial the phone to talk with some new people or do new research. You want to already be doing this research so you are aware of new developments, new processes and procedures, and what the competition is up to. Let this strategic right hand work with your tactical left hand so you bring the best to the solution.
Is this Strategic Planning?
No, it is strategic thinking. Strategic planning is the periodic effort that all organizations engage in to set the direction for the next period. It is the effort that informs your operational plans. Strategic thinking is what you do all the time. It is thinking that keeps you on track. It helps you know that you have your organization structured to support the plans, and that the plans will continue to drive business – up, not down.
Elements of Strategic Thinking
Second lesson – Strategic thinking is not a fixed or predictable thing with a uniform set of tools. It doesn’t have steps or milestones. If you are lucky, you have a mentor that does this well and you can learn for her or him. One problem we all have is that there are few who are proficient at strategic thinking and therefore not many who can mentor and teach.
At its’ heart, strategic thinking is looking at all the elements that go into strategic planning when it is not planning time. The elements you want to look at depend on your business circumstances. It may center on customer concerns, competition, research and development, financials, or all of the above and some I didn’t list. This doesn’t mean you become an expert in all these areas. It does mean that you keep track of them or know who does and talk with them. You stay interactive with others; all the others, not just the usual others. It also helps to look at situations in different ways with different questions – new questions.
New questions and new perspectives help you look at issues or situations in ways that lead to strategic and tactical success. Let’s look at some questions. (You may be using these already, if so great. However, do you remember to use them in all situations?)
What is the positive aspect of this issue? What are the negative aspects? What is interesting about this situation? What makes this idea unique or valuable? In what ways can we build on this idea’s advantage? What are the factors for success in this situation? What is the history of this problem? (More on questions can be found in a book by Dorothy Leeds, Smart Questions: The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers.)
Lets try a simple example. You are responsible for the consolidation of two offices. Looking at the positive and negative aspects is a relatively common set of questions to use. You would be looking at costs to move and risks of moving, among a host of other concerns. You would be weighing these positives and negatives to arrive at your decision. Now let us add-in some other questions. What is the history? Have we moved in the past and if so with what results. Where are our customers and would this move impact them? What are our factors for success in this move? And so on.
Let any question be the start for other questions. Look for ways to bring in outside issues or concerns. Let these concerns include areas that might usually be looked at as not relevant. Do this to enlarge and enhance conversation and inquiry. However, do not let it pull you away from making a decision; timely decisions trump endless questions.
Please realize that this type of thinking takes practice. Give yourself time to become proficient in strategic thinking. And don’t give up being tactical – you need both skills.
© Fritz M. Brunner, Ph.D. 2008, Version 1.1