Sunday, October 14, 2012

Strategic Planning Made Easy: Questions for the Busy Manager

“I have so many projects to manage and so many people, I just don’t have time to do any strategic planning.  I seem to just keep reacting to various project issues and I don’t have the time to focus on real leadership.  I want to sit down with my direct reports and talk about their goals; I want to draft a strategic plan and discuss it with my boss.  But all I do is try to keep things from crashing.” 
My client, Emma, had been promoted into a new position and found herself overwhelmed with taking care of immediate projects when she really needed a little time to take stock and do some planning.

Leaders need to keep their focus on their vision and goals.  They have a lot on their plate and it’s difficult to figure out how to take care of everything well, especially when they are in a new position.   In Emma’s case she hadn’t even had time to figure out what her vision for her department might be as she spent her time bogged down in the urgencies of the day and corralled into meeting after meeting.
This is not an unusual case.  Most leaders, especially mid-level aspiring to senior level, are challenged with the combination of project and personnel management, and leadership functions.  Taking the time to really think about what your vision is, what your priorities are, and drafting some plans will help smooth the way long-term.   Discussing with your boss your vision and plans will show her that you are a strategic thinker and planner and will impress her that you have done some hard thinking about your area.

If you are a new leader, a leader in a new position, or just a leader who wants to refresh their approaches, the following questions can help you focus on what is important. 

1.   What is your leadership philosophy?  What do you expect from yourself as a leader?  What should your organization expect from you?  Share your expectations of yourself as a leader to your staff, and ask them to help keep you accountable.  Starting with being clear about yourself will begin to set a foundation of trust and respect that’s important once you start sharing your vision.

2.   What is your vision for what you control?  What should you and your staff focus on?   How do you communicate your vision?  Discuss your vision with your boss and then make sure everyone knows what it is.  Communicate it often, in a variety of mediums. (See Got Vision? for more on developing a vision.)

3.   What resources and relationships are in place to help you reach your vision and major goals?  What do you need to do to get those in place and maintain them?  For example, do you need to send anyone to training, hire new team members, or focus on building cross-collaboration among other teams?  Do you need to change your culture to become more open or innovative?  Organizational culture changes begin at the top, and although you are one of the leaders, you many need help from the CEO or other senior managers in order to instigate change at this level.  However, in order to attain your vision and major goals, that may be necessary.  Take a good look at your organization’s culture to see what behaviors are rewarded and reinforced.

4.   What are your key priorities?  What will you accomplish in the next 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 5 years to reach your vision and major goals?  This is where you can sketch out some plans that include tasks, tactics and changes that you want to make.  Invite your boss into the discussion and add their suggestions to your plans.  When you keep your ultimate vision in mind, creating plans with will be easier because the goals and tasks are all tied to your vision.

5.   How will you measure success?  How will you recognize it?  What milestones will you celebrate?  Knowing how you will measure your successes will assist you when you need to collect and analyze data and make decisions on the best actions to take to achieve your goals. And of course, celebrating milestones along the way will keep the momentum going and morale up.  Make sure that everyone knows exactly what those measureable milestones are.
Giving your attention to these questions will turn you into a visionary leader with strategic planning skills.  They will help transform you from a struggling manager into a valuable principal player.  As in Emma’s case, your boss may be so impressed with your plans that extra resources are provided for you that will ease your workload.  Strategic planning isn’t hard.  Take the time to focus on it.

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