In strategy, it’s sometimes the little things that make you better. Here are 5 for the new year.
It’s the new year. 2016. And, of course with the new year comes a boatload of resolutions. Perhaps you want to lose weight, exercise more, leave the iPhone at home one day a week, go to church, play more, or spend more time with your kids. Resolutions of this sort come with a goal (pounds, hours, days, instances, etc.). But, how do you resolve to do something more abstract or squishy? How do you resolve to be a better person? How do you resolve to love your partner more?
Appropriate to this post, how do you resolve to be more strategic? Let me take that one and develop it in a way that almost anyone can use.
On being “Strategic”
At its core, strategy is about perceiving, processing, and acting. There’s not much more. We conjure images of egghead strategists and eccentric chess grandmasters, often to create an aura around strategy. But, in reality three things define you as a strategist: perceiving, processing, and acting.
Perceiving means watching and listening. It means having the gumption to stop and understand. It means collecting data. It means having that moment of humility when you realize that you don’t know it all.
Processing means taking the time to assess position. It means drawing conclusions about what you know and don’t know. It mans being analytical, but in a way that ensures positive feedback loops toward the other two foundations of strategy (that would be perceiving and acting for those reading this before their first cup of coffee) Processing tells us whether it’s time to perceive more or to act more.
Acting means moving…hopefully forward (and, knowing that sometimes forward is backwards…or sideways…but I digress) We tend to think of strategy as planning; but it’s not. Not exactly. No great strategist omits action from his or her repertoire.
Yes, strategy is that simple… And it is magnificently complex once you dig into the myriad ways of perceiving, processing, and acting.
5 ways to be more strategic in 2016
So, you are sitting here, at the start of 2016, wondering how you can be a more strategic businessperson. Let me offer you 5 little ways to do it. These are relevant for the entry level analyst and for the CEO. I’d bet that it’s a rare executive who does all 5 to start the year, so I hope there is something here for everyone.
You want to be more strategic? Then do these 5 things:
- Talk to 5 customers – That’s right, talk to 5 customers. But, I’m going to offer you a twist…You have to talk to them when there’s no deal on the line. Try talking to customers just to perceive and not to talk about your own value proposition or features or benefits. Go ahead, have a cup of coffee with 5 of your customers…just because. Ask questions. Try not to look too smart. You might learn something about what they need.
- Talk to 5 competitors – This one is a bit more dicey, but in the same vein as the first one. Find a way to learn and share with market participants in your sector. You might (and I’ll emphasize might) uncover ways of growing the market. Treat competitors as competitors. But, try–just for a bit–to treat the game as one that involves a growing pool of opportunity vs. merely a zero sum scoreboard. You might surprise yourself.
- Talk to 5 employees – This one sounds simple. It isn’t. Too many people say “I talk to employees all day long…” but what they mean is that they talk at employees all day long. They go to meetings, they issue perspectives and orders. What they don’t do is seek to understand. The more senior you are, the more isolated you get. Employee interactions start to look more like town halls and focus groups vs. human interactions. Taking time to ask questions and listen of individual employees is challenging. Your employees may not trust you enough to be honest…but they just might.
- Outline the three risks you must manage in 2016 – Go ahead, make the list right now. Refine it as you talk to employees, competitors, and customers. Have a key person who isn’t happy? That’s a risk to manage. Have a key customer who may defect? Write it down. Learn something from your conversations in the market? Refine your view of risks.
- Outline the three major moves you can make in 2016 – This is where perceiving and processing start to move to action. Take a moment, today, to define how you, individually, can make game changing moves. If this is about business strategy, perhaps we are talking about a product introduction or an acquisition of a fellow market participant. If this is about your individual career, perhaps we are talking about education or community service, or other enhancements to you as an individual. Write them down. Have a point of view on major moves. Avoid “business as usual” where you wake up and suddenly it’s August and you haven’t done a thing that looks strategic.
There you have it. 5 little ways to be more strategic in 2016. I figure that for the average manager or executive, the things I’ve listed above amount to 20 hours of conversation and contemplation. It amounts to upping your game on perceiving by listening to individuals you may only talk at. It amounts to upping your game on processing by understanding risks and opportunities explicitly. And, it amounts to upping your game on acting by taking a moment, now, to confirm the big moves you might make.
Ask yourself…is being a more strategic in 2016 worth 20 hours of time? Let me know in the comments below.
Here’s to a great 2016!