Erika Andersen of Forbes.com discusses the basics of being strategic about change, and describes five steps to make your vision of the future possible.
She observes: "In such complex and challenging times, business people keep saying, 'We need to be more strategic.' The problem is, we generally don't say what we really mean by that or, more important, how to do it."
Andersen offers this definition: "Being strategic means consistently focusing on those core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future."
And to guide you on that path, she recommends the following five-point plan:
1) Decide what you're solving. "Amazingly often business people try to solve problems without first getting completely clear on what those problems are," says Andersen. This, she explains, leads to "duelling solutions" as a team argues about solving a problem that hasn't been defined properly. You can only begin addressing a challenge once the sense of it has been agreed upon.
2) Be clear about where you're starting from. You need an "accurate and balanced" idea of your position relative to your goal. "It's all too easy to avoid looking at or to underestimate the less pleasant aspects of your situation," says Andersen.
3) Focus on your hoped-for future. When times are hard there might be a tendency to "retreat into survival mode". To avoid that, have a clear sense of where you want to be in the future and consistently articulate it to your people as an "antidote to fear". The author hypothesises that if your employees know you intend to double your number of retail outlets over the next five years, it will improve morale and productivity.
4) Face the obstacles. Once the hoped-for future has been decided upon and clearly articulated, you need to be realistic and well-prepared for the obstacles you need to overcome in order to get there. Don't underestimate these obstacles or overestimate them, and be dispassionate and objective to increase your likelihood of assessing them accurately and taking the appropriate action to negotiate them.
5) Make core directional choices and then get specific. The author explains that strategies mark out the route to your hoped-for future and represent core-level decisions regarding how to focus your time and energy. However, she warns: "Business people often move straight from vision to tactics without establishing clear strategies, and they end up with uncoordinated efforts that don't make the best use of important resources."
Andersen adds: "Once you have a handful of clear, high-leverage strategies, you can use them as a filter to decide what to do… By using your strategies as a screen for action, you can make the most effective choices about what to do and what not to do – one of your most difficult and most important challenges, especially in lean times."