The “Getting Ahead” series at Management Excellence is focused on sharing ideas on the skills, tools and behaviors we must cultivate to develop and succeed as professionals and as leaders. Part 1 focused on Developing Your Professional Presence.
Senior leaders value employees who are proven operators AND who are capable of looking at the bigger picture and providing help in developing the way forward for the business. Your ability to cultivate both sets of skills will help you strengthen your professional value proposition and help differentiate you from your peers. This differentiation might just be the meaningful issue for that next promotion.
Strategic thinking is much about knowing the right questions to ask and then seeking answers to these questions. Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of GE famously offered:
“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”
While there’s some comfort in the pure, raw simplicity of that thought, what Welch didn’t share in this quote is that he subjected his managers and business unit leaders to 40 or so incredibly challenging (to answer) questions as part of the process of picking that direction and building the implementation plan.
The opportunity for all of us, from senior executives to front-line professionals, is to blend some of Welch’s simplicity on this often confusing topic of strategy, with the on-going pursuit of answers to some critical questions.
6 Question Sets to Help Jump Start Your Strategic Curiosity
1. Our business situation. How do we make money today? What do our customers truly pay for? Why do they choose us over our competitors? How are we meaningfully different from our competitors?
2. Our changing world. What’s changing and what’s changed in our world that will impact us? Our customers? Our competitors? Our partners? What are we doing to leverage or exploit those changes?
3. Our customers. What do we know about our customers and their challenges that we can apply or acquire and apply expertise to helping solve? Can we do this to our advantage and to the disadvantage of our competitors?
4. Our ecosystem. How does our business fit within the ecosystem of players that serve our target customers? Are there opportunities for us to do more or less to improve our differentiation and our profitability? Can we partner or acquire to do something that will help us differentiate and add value for our customers?
5. Our opportunities to change the rules. What can we do to change the game with our competitors? What might our competitors do to change the game for us? What’s our counter?
6. What to do and what not to do. How do we choose what to do and importantly, what not to do? What filters are we using for our decision-making? How can we improve or clarify those filters?
The Bottom-Line for Now:
While that’s a fairly hefty set of questions (to answer), I view those as simply the thought-starters. No one function or level in the organization owns those questions, although senior executives are responsible for ensuring that they are answered and acted upon.
Strategy…and strategic thinking and experimentation should not be left just to senior executives and well-heeled consultants. The work of strategy and building the future is everyone’s business. Effective senior managers value strategic thinking (and actions) in their employees, and your willingness to ask and seek answers to these critical issues is an indicator that you may be ready for more responsibility.
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