Strat-e-gy (strat-i-jee): a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.1
Every organizational unit can and will benefit from living and working more strategically. I’m not talking only about businesses. The fact of the matter is that individuals, families, and couples can live and work strategically in order to reach goals determined by those involved.
#1: Get a Grip2
Gain a high degree of control of your life and living environment. In other words, devise ways to avoid having to spend a whole lot of time every day putting out fires. So much time is wasted doing this — time that could be better spent on other pursuits. Creating a strategic plan and strategic focus does not happen in the matter of a few minutes or hours on a Saturday afternoon. Initial planning can take multiple hours spread across numerous weeks. This is why most people don’t live strategically: it requires a conscious, invested effort to determine and set a strategic direction.
#2: Set Specific, Attainable Goals
The beginning of any and every strategic plan must begin with at least one specific, attainable goal or end result. Most groups of people have more than one goal, so creating a list of goals is quite simple. Articulating goals may at times be difficult, but doing so is required in order to progress further.
These goals must be as specific as possible. The more specific a goal is, the easier it will be to focus on and obtain. For example, here are a few common goals:
- Get out of debt
- Lose weight
- Save more money
- Get more education
At first glance, these goals look pretty good. But in reality, they are too broad. Goals should help to determine a strategic direction and get everyone involved onto the same page. While setting goals, it is important to write them down. I suggest using a word processing application to at least get them on paper. Goals and end results should be as specific as possible. Think about changing the list above by adding more specific terms, like this:
- Pay down half of our credit card debt
- Lose 15 pounds in the next 90 days
- Save an extra $500 in the next six months
- Take a community education class about gardening
#3: Study Up
Do not assume you know everything about obtaining your goal just because you have written it down. Chances are pretty good that if you knew what it took to reach your list of goals, that list would look much differently. Ask yourself simple questions regarding each goal on the list:
- How much credit card debt do we have, total?
- What is our monthly payment?
- What can we do to become more active?
- What can we do to eat healthier?
- Which expenses can we cut out to save money?
- Will our income allow us to save that much money within the timeframe?
- How much does the gardening class cost?
- When are the classes offered?
If you cannot answer any of these, or similar, questions, you have some research to do. Invariably, the more you know about a situation, the more you will realize that you don’t know. Find the answers to as many questions as possible before moving on. Armed with all of that information, the next step will be easier.
Now that you have a better idea of what you are up against, you need to comb through the information you found in order to readily understand what it is going to take to create a strategy for reaching your goals. Then you need to understand the forces at work that will threaten your success. There are a number of them:
- External Threats (Hazards): “…threats are the risks and adverse conditions in the external environment that will be a barrier to the achievement of your strategic target. So what becomes important is focusing on how to understand, evaluate, and manage threats before they turn into trials” (Stowell & Mead, 89).
- External Advantages (Tailwinds): “…the positive driving forces that are working in your behalf. Advantages are the favorable conditions in your external environment worth pursuing or utilizing” (Stowell & Mead, 92).
- Internal Forces: “People who live and operate strategically have a realistic understanding of their weaknesses and limitations (headwinds) as well as their inherent strengths and capabilities (tailwinds). They are good at applying and leveraging their strengths and managing or neutralizing their weaknesses. Your natural strengths and limitations create boundaries and help you decide which targets can be pursued and which may be out of reach at a given moment in time.
This means thinking and operating within a logical and reasonable framework of reality” (Stowell & Mead, 97).
- Personal Strengths: “…you need to unearth and inventory what you can bring to the table. Strengths are more than attitudes and hard work. Strength is not necessarily the opposite of a weakness—they are two separate things. We do believe that each person’s situation is very unique and your exclusive package of strengths gives you the capacity to achieve your own strategic mission, plans, and targets” (Stowell & Mead, 100).
- Personal Weaknesses: “…the key is to recognize, own up to, and isolate the weaknesses. Simply put, you have to know what you are not good at, and avoid exposing yourself to situations that involve these particular vulnerabilities; otherwise, you have a recipe for failure. We are not suggesting that you avoid risks, experimentation, or stretching outside your competence zone. But when you take aim at a truly strategic target, you need to be on your own field of battle—home court advantage, so to speak. You need to know your limitations and understand how to manage, neutralize, or make limitations irrelevant” (Stowell & Mead, 103).
#5: Create Possible Situations
Another word for situation is scenario, or an imagined or projected sequence of events, especially any of several detailed plans or possibilities.3 Every strategic plan must include summaries of at least a few possible scenarios you may encounter. The more scenarios you can create in the beginning, the more prepared you will be if something similar actually happens.
#6: Create a Game Plan
Use a game plan as you would a road map. Working a new strategy is exactly the same as driving through an unfamiliar place to an unfamiliar address.
#7: Move Out!
Now that you have set a strategic direction and have established a working strategic plan, all you have to do now is work it. Put the pedal to the metal and get the plan moving down the road. In other words, implement your plan.
Once the plan reaches the implementation stage, be flexible and treat the plan as a constant work-in-progress. You may have to make a few tweaks here and retool a few points along the way, and that is okay, and expected. Do not expect the initial plan to look exactly the same three, six, or nine months from the implementation date. Doing so could severely limit your success.
As you become more and more familiar with implementing strategic plans, you will get better at it. The point is to begin where you are, gain some control over current conditions in life, set a few attainable goals, learn more about what you need to do to reach those goals, analyze your current situation at a deep level, conjure up a few possible future scenarios, create a plan, and put that plan into motion. If you do this, great things will likely happen.
2. Stowell, Steven, and Stephanie Mead. Ahead of the Curve. Sandy: CMOE Press, 2005.