The responsibility of strategic thinking and planning has historically been relegated to senior leaders and the corporate office while the rest of the organization functions in the moment rather than preparing for the future. But given today’s competitive economy, organizations are finding that managers and individual contributors at all levels of the organization need to anticipate opportunities and threats and think strategically about their own areas of responsibility. Just like the long-term success of the organization, each individual’s success is dependent on his/her ability to take care of current operations while executing strategic initiatives that will influence future success.
However, thinking strategically isn’t worth much if you can’t translate it into action. The biggest stumbling block between visualizing a strategic target that will help you add distinctive value in the future and actually hitting the target is the ability to execute on your ideas and plans. Remember that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So it is as you plan to win with your individual or team strategy.
You can get operational with your strategy and gain traction on your strategic initiatives using the following five practical principles.
Principle 1: Commitment
If your strategic target is worthwhile, you will internalize it to the point that you don’t have to think about its worth. You just know it is worthy of your time and effort. Your strategic target should encompass who you are and what you are about. When you are truly committed, you can openly speak about your strategic ideas and plans and you are not afraid of those who may not be supportive or as visionary as you. When you believe in your strategy, remarkable things can happen. Others will see your intentions and feel your commitment. It will inspire others to contribute value. Commitment alone will not guarantee success. Sometimes our strategic journeys are tough, but your commitment will push you through.
Principle 2: Courage
When you do something strategic, it isn’t usually time that impedes progress. Rather, it is having the courage to overcome the fear of failure and making mistakes. You won’t be able to execute on a strategy without making some mistakes and experiencing some setbacks. It is just part of the process, so don’t undertake your strategy until you are willing to recognize this important aspect of strategy. Chances are, your short-term failures will help you learn invaluable lessons that will contribute to the long-term benefits of your strategic endeavor. Mistakes and setbacks will serve as indicators of the adjustments you may need to make along the way. Manage your desire to be perfect or successful with every tactic. The idea is to leverage mistakes and failures in a productive way and turn them into starting points—not ending points. Your ability to stay flexible and agile may lead to new opportunities and innovations you may not have otherwise found. Candidates for NASA’s astronaut program are selected not only on their technical competencies, but also on their experience with overcoming failures and setbacks. It appears that NASA believes a person who has overcome failure is better prepared for the work ahead than someone who has not had the experience of failing effectively.
Principle 3: Steps
Have you ever felt like your strategic intentions are daunting? Have you ever felt intimidated by what you are planning to take on with your strategic initiative? This is a natural feeling if your strategy is a valuable one. You can counteract these feelings by breaking down your strategic target into incremental parts and focusing your energy and time on the individual pieces. Attack the high-priority elements of your plan first and control your appetite to take on more than you can handle right out of the gate. You will get better results if you select a few strategies and action steps that you can consistently sustain rather than dedicating energy to a lot of activities that you can’t fully support. In simple terms, you don’t want to pick a fight you can’t win. Decisively approach each stepping stone with concentrated effort and rack up decisive wins along the way.
Principle 4: Persistence
As you launch your strategy’s action plan, you must have the internal discipline and resolve to persist over time. David Cottrell, author of Monday Morning Leadership: 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss, said, “Frequently, the difference between success and failure is the resolve to stick to your plan long enough to win.” Pick up speed with your plan and allocate your resources and energy to sustain the implementation process from beginning to end. Certainly, you will experience adversity, trials, and barriers along the way, but keep in mind that strategic targets are rarely successfully achieved without drive and follow-through. Don’t let yourself sit back and wait for the ideal moment to launch your odyssey. Rather, get started and apply concerted effort at every stage.
Principle 5: Adapt
As you implement strategic initiatives, actively apply your knowledge, experience and strategic intelligence as windows of opportunity open up or as threats creep up. A successful strategy will require that you are flexible and make small, or even large, adjustments along the way. Prepare yourself with contingencies if obstacles emerge. Being able to creatively improvise in your response to all types of circumstances that will increase your chances for success with your strategy.
Successful strategists rigorously apply discipline to their operational routines to make room for their strategic journeys because fundamentally, strategy only works when it is implemented. The future isn’t as far away as you think, so let these principles help you as you shape your future.