Strategic Thinking Produces Successful Implementation of Plans
I am a back-to-back book reader with business books always lined up ready to go. Reading condenses a professional’s years of experience into about 200-300 pages. It lets you experience the world through someone else’s eyes, as well as increasing your personal development. If you are looking to get the most out of your career and enhance your professional development, read as much as you can. I read some time ago How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell. Through this article, I would like to discuss a particularly compelling section of that book.
This book is focused around the various components of comprehension a successful thinker engages in, in particular, strategic thinking. Strategic thinking, in this context, refers to how successful leaders tactically plan and coordinate the future to produce manageable goals, maximize efficiency, and streamline a path to success. Within this section, Maxwell provides steps to “…become a better strategic thinker able to formulate and implement plans that will achieve the desired objective…” He breaks these out in seven guidelines:
1 - Break down the issue – Breaking down an issue into manageable parts, allowing you to focus more effectively and remove the feeling of being overwhelmed by complex tasks.
DineAbility: For some, this is natural (no matter how big the task is). When presented with a task, especially one that requires delegation to subordinates, segmenting is important. Equally important is a project plan to communicate:
- 1. How the smaller tasks among various teams will be coordinated and integrated?
- 2. Who will be doing each task?
- 3. How will the project be measured?
- 4. What the goal deliverable dates will be? etc.
Another important item to consider is ensuring communication is active and free flowing across the teams. Segmenting tasks and coordinating a plan is important to lead groups, but working toward a common goal requires teamwork through constant communication. The biggest tasks you as the leader have are to ensure each group is moving in sync, constantly communicating, synergistic, and understands the importance of how their actions impact the overall goal.
2 – Ask “why” before “how” – Asking “why” allows you to make sense of the task before it is completed (or even started). Why are we doing this? Why are we not doing something else? Why are we doing this now instead of a year from now? Asking “why” questions will help to define the task at a very deep level. As Maxwell states, asking why “helps you to open your mind to possibilities and opportunities.” It also allows you to see the issues at the lowest common denominator (research the 5 why’s of decision making)
DineAbility: Leaders ask the “why” questions. It helps to develop the purpose and direction of a project or plan of action. Resources and time are wasted if strategic thinking is not first employed and the “why” questions are not addressed.
3 – Identify the real issues and objectives – Maxwell states, “Too many people rush to solutions, and as a result they end up solving the wrong problem.” Assumptions are to be challenged and probing questions must be asked to avoid focusing on the wrong issues.
DineAbility: This stems from the previous guideline, but exhuming the real issues and objectives will help to determine where your true focus should lie. A huge Six Sigma mantra is not making conclusions until all the data are gathered, examined, analyzed, and results are provided. Let the objective outcomes of the analysis guide conclusions, not assumptions through subjective interpretations.
4 – Review your resources – Correct resources are vital to accomplishing goals. Resources make the project run, keep the project moving forward, allow the project to finish on time, and deliver the expected results.
DineAbility: A plan without action is just a plan. A plan with action is also just a plan without sufficient resources. To make the plan or project come alive you need the right resources in place (money, people, inventory, etc). This will take a bit of estimation, and will force you to reevaluate these resources at every stage of the project.
5 – Develop your plan – Up to this point we have identified elements that lend themselves to successful identifying, analyzing, and understanding the issues. Now you are ready to develop the plan. When planning, keep it high level where possible so you receive “buy-in” from your team. This connection among team members will build a strong foundation for progression.
DineAbility: A plan or “roadmap” is a necessity to efficiently accomplish goals. Leaving out ambiguity and interpretation are keys for people to hone in on tasks that are going to provide the greatest value to the project. The plan should act as a navigation system. You as the leader need to input the destination and provide guidance throughout the project, while the team needs to accomplish their assigned tasks.
6 – Put the right people in the right place – Maxwell mentions that “before you can implement your plan, you must make sure that you have the right people in place.” If people are not where they are supposed to be, chaos takes over.
DineAbility: A key role of a leader is to recognize talent and place talent in the right position to maximize productivity. If Employee A is really good at plumbing and Employee B is really good at painting, you shouldn’t ask employee B to fix a leaky faucet. Placing people in positions to succeed is vital for the project.
7 – Keep repeating the process – In order to tackle the major issues you are facing, you must continually be engaging in strategic thinking. Overcoming one major issue by strategic thinking does not give you a free pass to neglect it with your next big issue.
DineAbility: Discipline is a key factor with this process. It takes a special person to remain committed to the techniques and methods that make a strategic thinker successful.
Ultimately, as John C. Maxwell states, a plan of action must be developed with resources aligned and clear objectives set. That is sometimes easier said than done. When dealing with a specific goal in mind, engaging in Program Evaluation can greatly increase the likelihood of success. By assisting you make informed decisions, recognizing appropriate resources, and ensuring the goal makes sense, Program Evaluation can really make a big impact.