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Strategy can be a practical tool that unlocks better team performance and personal career growth. Managers at every level use strategy to impact their organizations positively and to stand out from the crowd. But why would a process focused on the long-term direction of the organization be a tool for managers of day-to-day operations and delivery?
Strategy is about how to survive and thrive in a changing environment. The rate of change and the use of new technology is higher than ever, and it affects every part of the organization—even the most traditional. The way your team works and the tools they use are not the same as they were five years ago, and they won’t be the same two years from now.
Your leadership will ensure that your team doesn’t lag behind and become an underperformer, but also that it doesn’t get overwhelmed by unnecessary change. Strategy is the tool you need to be the kind of leader that continues to deliver exactly what your organization needs—no matter what changes.
This series of articles will explore how to use strategic thinking to increase your team’s effectiveness and your impact as a leader, starting with a bit of self-reflection.
You and your team are doing well, performing as (and often better than) expected. You know the members of your team, what they do, and why. You have some great ideas about how to improve performance and make work easier. The future is clear and bright, as long as everything goes to plan.
But there are dynamics outside of your control that can change all that in a moment: re-organization, new business processes, changing stakeholder expectations, emerging technology. Can you predict how your team is likely to change? Can you prepare your team for these changes before they happen?
“Ah,” I hear you say, “Won’t this disrupt my team? Instead of focusing on their jobs, they’ll be worrying about what’s going to change!”
Actually, the reverse is true. Suddenly announced changes are far more disruptive. Everyone on your team knows that things change. Being able to understand the context (how and why) well beforehand makes changes easier to accept and implement.
The first step in strategic thinking is to understand where you are today, and how that’s likely to change in the future. Here’s how it works. Every quarter (or at least twice a year), before you start thinking about action plans and budgets, take the following three steps. Some managers like to do this alone, but it is often more helpful if you engage your team in the exercise. The first iteration could take one or two days, but the quarterly reviews will be much quicker.
Start by creating (or updating) a list of what functions your team performs within the organization. Who are your customers and stakeholders? What do they expect from you? What would happen if you could not perform those functions?
But don’t assume that’s all there is to it. Keep asking why. What goals do your customers want to achieve? Do they have a strategy? How do you support their strategy? Should you be doing more, should you be doing things differently?
Now list everything your team does. What do you do and why? Who are your team members? What are their personalities, talents, and capabilities (even those that are not directly related to their jobs)? What tools do you use? What processes do you execute?
Again, don’t forget to ask “Why?”. Why do you do those things, the way you do them, with the people you have? Are there things you’re doing that don’t deliver real value? Are there things your customers/stakeholders expect from you that you’re not delivering?
Now look at both those lists and ask two questions for every item:
Since you’re looking to the future, your answers may be uncertain. If there are two or three possibilities, list them all. Next quarter you’ll be able see which options have become more likely. But you’ll always have multiple scenarios in the back of your mind so that you are not taken by surprise.
You have a really good idea of where you are today, what’s likely to change, and why. Next, you’ll use that information to decide how to position your team. Will you stay as you are? Will you improve some aspects of what you do? Will you change something about the way you work or the role you play in the organization?
The next article in this series will explore how to create a team vision, a simple set of statements that help every team member know where the team is headed and what their role is in that journey.
In subsequent articles, I’ll explore more techniques:
David Cannon is known for crafting industry best practices for strategy and IT operations, which he uses to make organizations function more effectively and efficiently. He has led consulting practices in Forrester, Hewlett-Packard, and BMC Software, creating effective operating models that exploit both business and technology capabilities in integrated solutions. David believes that successful digital strategy is an enterprise initiative that integrates technology from multiple internal and external sources to achieve business success. He is the coauthor of the ITIL 2007 Service Operation book and the ITIL 2011 Service Strategy book, and he was awarded two lifetime achievement awards by itSMF. Follow David on Twitter @itilso.
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