Improve your Strategic Thinking
To Young Professionals-
I love this HBR article and decided to write a synthesis of it dedicated to people my age! I have had the ability to work at awesome companies and build my skills to become a professional, and I want you to do the same.
Know: Observe and Seek Trends
- Make it a routine exercise to explore and synthesize the internal trends in your day-to-day work. For example, pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over in your organization and synthesize the common obstacles your colleagues face.
- Be proactive about connecting with peers both in your organization and in your industry to understand their observations of the marketplace. Then, share your findings across your network.
- Understand the unique information and perspective that your function provides and define its impact on the corporate level strategy.
If you’re ‘just a Representative or an Associate, that really doesn’t matter. You control your own success and growth path. Information is Knowledge, and Knowledge is Power. You may miss key information that could help you focus, prioritize, and be proactive in addressing your company's issues. Approaching your day-to-day in a transactional manner, simply getting the next meeting or making the next dashboard, will fail to recognize the need for different approaches that may push your companies key KPIs. This will allow for you to be recognized as a curious and driven individual, which is never a bad thing!
Think: Ask the Tough Questions
“How do I broaden what I consider?” “ How do I make this easier?” , You ask yourself when faced with a tough problem.
Questions are the language of strategy and need to be broken down to simplicity to be a) digested b) answered. A complex question usually leads to a headache and a few burnouts- so contextualize the problem and zero in!
- “What does success look like in Year 1?”
- “What does it look like in Year 3?”
- “What could negatively impact the outcome?”
- “What are the early signs of success/failure?”
- “What do business partners need to understand to ensure its success?”
- “Do the outcomes support the broader goals of the organization?”
As stated, questions are the language of strategy. By asking insightful questions that get to the point, we can better engage with colleagues and senior leadership. As we know, Leadership and Management are busy asking a question related to either $$$ or long-term goal should garner their attention. Tough questions shape the perception others have of you either negatively or positively. Usually, it’s positive. You’ve now become a ‘Thought Leader’; insightful questions create engagement, spark ideas, and get things done.
Speak: Sound Strategic
- Add more structure to your written and verbal communication. Group and logically order your main points and keep things as succinct as possible.
- Prime your audience by giving them a heads up on the overarching topics you want to address so they are prepared to engage in a higher-level conversation, not just the tactical details.
- Practice answering first, instead of building up to your main point.
High achieving people, those that we usually look up to, do not have a super-power rather a ‘super skill. They can prioritize and organize/sequence their thoughts so their audience can follow their message. Those ‘insane’ ideas challenge the status quo and social assumptions because they help others identify the issue, share understanding, and frame choices. So what does this look like? Start out at 1:1, create an agenda and keep it small (2–3 points); those points should reflect the top priorities of your company and Leadership team. By sounding strategic, you can gain rapport and constantly learn, which is important for any young professional! You’ll be taken more seriously, given more autonomy, and feel more confident in your work.
Act: Make Time for Thinking and Embrace Conflict
“Am I doing real work when I’m just sitting at my desk thinking?
The problem that I have with the school is that it doesn’t embrace debate and invite challenge without letting it get personal. The former is a byproduct of youth, but anyway, by not embracing conflict, we are unable to do one thing, ask tough questions. To do this, we have to focus on the issues, not people and use peers to challenge our thinking. Well, thinking, do you have time for that? Sure, you can Slack David and ask him what he thinks, but what do you think? Do you take the time to reflect on the issues and ponder options? If not, have you recognized that you may not be bringing YOUR full value?
Make time to think! If you don’t have dedicated blocks for ‘ think time,’ then try it out! Even 30 minutes does wonder. Where to start? Your calendar is probably full of meetings, right? Using Stephen Covey's 2x2 Matrix, we can concentrate our thinking on the top priorities at work so that we can achieve clarity in thinking and balance. You need to start with independent variables of the problem at hand, a relationship such as below:
Look, we are young, we aren’t expected to know everything! That’s no excuse to get ahead, though, and in my experience, this is what held me back — Strategic Thinking. It’s important to be confident in yourself; you’re going to challenge your assumptions and be in a ton of conflict with yourself. I can say this, though; you’ll become curious, love conflict, and be able to contribute at a higher level.
Bowman, Nina A., et al. “4 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills.” Harvard BusinessReview,5Dec.2017,hbr.org/2016/12/4-ways-to-improve-your-strategic-thinking-skills?utm_campaign=hbr.