7-Part Mini-Masterclass Series
Developing a strategic mindset at all levels of the organization
Think back to the last time you participated in a strategic planning meeting for your team, department or organization at large. You were likely presented with a challenge to solve or goal to achieve.
Do you remember your contributions during that meeting? Did you offer compelling ideas and plot a course of action, or find it difficult to think strategically and develop a solution?
Strategic thinking skills are among the most highly sought-after management competencies. Why? Because employees capable of thinking critically, logically, and strategically can have a tremendous impact on a business’s trajectory.
If you want to improve your strategic thinking skills, the good news is that, with the right mindset and practice, you can.
In this masterclass, we will cover some framework methods you can use to train your mind to think strategically.
How to Choose From Risky Options
Step 1 - Figure out what you need for each option to succeed
Lay out all the steps necessary for success and then assess whether you have or are able to find the resources. Without this detail, the risk of failure is much higher. For example:
Whose buy-in do you need?
How much budget will you need?
Step 2 - Identify the outcomes and consequences of each option
Make a list of every possible outcome and what could influence each one. For example,
If your idea lost money, how would the business respond?
If the plan failed entirely, how bad would that be for the employees?
If it performed exactly as you intended it to, what exactly would that mean for the company?
Would the expected win be equal or greater than the potential loss?
Step 3 - Think about the pros and cons of each option
You should now have a list of all your options, everything you need to implement for each to be successful, and all of the possible outcomes (and their consequences). Next, you should weigh the pros and cons of each option.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to decide how to add staff. It’s risky to hire full-time and it’s also risky to hire freelancers, but for different reasons.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of hiring full-time employees:
Pros of hiring an employee:
Employees are committed to your company
The hourly wage of an employee is less than a freelancer
You have someone full-time that can help you with your business
Cons of hiring an employee:
Pay must be regular and on time, even when your company isn’t making money
Full-time employees expect benefits
You have to pay for the training and licensing of your employees
The hiring process can be expensive
7 Tips for Developing an Effective Team Workflow
1. Explain the why
If your team has little to no context for what they’re doing, they’ll be lost when they need to make an independent decision. And that means every question gets elevated to you, which slows your process down.
2. Be SMART about goals
Without milestones and specific tasks, it’s much harder for your employees to efficiently communicate where they stand. Set individual and team goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
3. Establish a decision-making hierarchy
When your employees know in advance how decisions are made, they can either take care of it themselves or expedite approval. Assign a standard decision type:
Team gives input and manager decides
Manager gives input and team decides
4. Choose communication methods
With so many ways to talk to each other, it can quickly get overwhelming and inefficient. Create standard rules that specify when to email, text, instant message, call, or set up a meeting.
5. Create a space for shared knowledge
Consolidate helpful information in an accessible location for everyone on the team. Assign a team member to oversee the knowledge center. Not just to organize and maintain existing information, but to plan and create resources the team needs.
6. Talk about progress
Create a check-in meeting that uncovers bottlenecks and encourages problem-solving. Use the meeting to discuss two specific topics:
What’s progressing well
Where progress is stalled
7. Optimize your workflow
Tweak your process as needed. It’s your responsibility to stay alert to your team’s frustrations, unexplained slowdowns, or quality issues. Don’t hesitate to change procedures, even if they’ve been in place for a long time.
How to Delegate Effectively in Six Easy Steps
1 - Decide what to delegate
Does the task require your specific skills, education, or perspective (or it’s confidential)? If not, the task is fair game for delegation, as long as you’re not overloading your employees.
2 - Select the right person
Evaluate which employee has the potential to do the task well. Ask yourself:
Does this project/task align with the purpose of their position?
If not, would the employee welcome the task because it focuses on a skill they want to learn?
Does this person’s workload allow enough time for this assignment?
Does this person have skills or training that would make it easier for them to do the task?
3 - Specify the outcome
Help your employees do the best job possible by setting expectations. If you’re giving them a single task, make the final deliverable clear. If you’re delegating a project, assign milestones and check-in times.
4 - Identify limits
Explain when the employee should ask for help. For example:
“You might get stuck here. Let me know if you do.”
“If you can’t find this, look here and here first.”
“Don’t email this person without letting me read it first.”
“Work through the first page and then let’s check-in.”
5 - Provide support
Scheduled check-in meetings are an efficient way to supervise their work. Rather than receiving multiple emails or calls, ask them to consolidate all their questions for the next meeting.
6 - Focus on progress, not process
Give your employees space to learn and solve problems. If you hold their hand through every step, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re limiting their chance to learn through trial and error.
5 Steps to a Business Process Makeover
1 - Map your existing process
If you don’t have anything documented, your first step is to draw a flowchart. For each numbered step, you should include:
Team Member – Who’s responsible
Timing – How long the task should ideally take
Resources – What’s needed to complete the task (i.e., IT system or another department)
Variables – Other issues that could affect the timing (i.e., outside vendor turnaround)
2 - Identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the process
Confirm your understanding of the process by asking your staff:
What have I missed?
Are the ideal timelines realistic? If not, why?
What problems are you having?
What suggestions do you have for improvement?
Do you need help with any of your tasks?
3 - Identify needs and changes
Make the easy fixes – Simple changes can add up to better team morale and improved customer experience.
Address the complex changes – Your analysis could also uncover problems that go beyond your team. When this happens, you’ll need to collaborate on company-wide solutions.
Keep pushing – If changes are taking longer than anticipated, communicate back to your team.
4 - Create a revised process map
Save it on the cloud – Consider using cloud-based software to save and share the information.
Create a useful resource – Add links to related resources like internal forms or instructions. You’ve just created a training manual at the same time.
Share with your team – A sense of ownership will encourage your employees to help with the transition.
5 - Communicate changes to everyone affected
Distribute widely – Share with anyone whose workflow might be affected by the changes.
Personalize communications – You can notify everyone through email, but if you think a coworker might be resistant, it’s best to reach out directly.
Remind gently – It’s also a good idea to remind your team as they go through the new process for the first or second time.
Understanding the Difference Between Important Work and Busy Work
Understand Your Organization’s Goals
When you get mired in the daily grind, it’s easy to lose sight of the reason you’re there. Search for clarity on your organization’s mission, vision, and values. See if they have business objectives for each year or quarter. Even better, are there goals for your specific department?
Be Clear on Your Professional Goals
Even though your current employer’s goals are important, you also need to be conscious of what’s best for your career. Do you have a five-year career development plan? If not, it’s time to create one. Here are the key questions to ask:
What’s your dream job?
What are the personal benefits of achieving this job?
What are the key milestones toward getting this job?
What are the individual tasks you need to take toward each milestone?
Identify What’s Important
Now that you’ve clarified your organization’s goals and your professional aspirations, you’ll be able to align your day-to-day work with both of these. Look at all the tasks you’re doing and review their importance by cost and benefit.
Cost – This is the effort needed per task – time, money, mental resources.
Benefit – This is how closely the task contributes to your organization/professional goals.
Organize your time so you’re focused on high benefit tasks.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
If you’re on the bottom of the totem pole, you might end up with some busy work. There are a few ways you can manage these:
Delegate – If something is taking up a lot of time and it’s unimportant, see if you can delegate some or all of the work.
Automate – See if something “we’ve always done” can be automated. It will free up your time and make you look good!
Talk to Your Supervisor – Have a frank discussion. Many organizations have processes that are ineffective or pointless. See if there’s a true need for the task.
6 Tips to Be More Effective at Execution
1 - Set clear, purposeful goals
Connect your goals to the organization’s goals – What’s your department or organization trying to achieve, and how can you be an integral part of that? Have you chosen goals that reflect their priorities?
Be SMART – You’ve likely heard this advice before, but it’s worth repeating. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
2 - Break goals into tasks with deadlines
Use action verbs – This clarifies what you need to do, who is responsible, and how to break it down.
Always have a deadline – Work backward from your larger goal and consider how long each task will take. It’s also motivating because you’re accountable.
3 - Assign tasks to your team based on strengths
Choose what to delegate – Think about whether 1) if it’s easy to explain and 2) your employee can do the job regularly. If it’s one or both, it might be worth the time investment to train them.
Evaluate your team members – Pair tasks with the individuals best suited. Have they completed similar tasks? Does it align with their role? Do they have time?
4 - Communicate on progress
Identify milestones – You can better visualize the progress toward your goal by creating milestones. This makes it easier to report the overall status of your goal.
Update your status – Check off tasks as you complete them (and encourage your team to do the same). That way, the status of the project is immediately clear whenever someone logs into the tool.
5 - Schedule blocks of time
Put it on your calendar – Create an appointment just like you would for a meeting. Be sure to mark the time as “busy,” so your colleagues don’t interrupt you or schedule meetings.
Keep it to an hour – This is generally the length of time your mind can focus on a task without becoming distracted. However, this does vary quite a bit, so experiment to see what works best.
Turn everything else off – It’s very easy to get sidelined by a phone call, email, or text. You’ve already notified your team that you’re “in a meeting.
6 - Stay aligned on goals
Look up occasionally – Make sure you and your team revisit the original goal regularly to confirm your milestones and tasks reflect the intentions of your project.
Adjust as needed –It’s OK to tweak the target, so it retains all the elements of the SMART framework. Communicate the change to your team and explain why.
Decision-making Tools for Non-Managers
Step 1 - Identify the decision to be made
The first step is to understand there is a problem or an opportunity and the different ways to address it.
Step 2 - Gather relevant information
Make an informed, fact-based decision by understanding the alternatives, possibilities, cost, and consequences of each choice.
Step 3 - Identify alternatives
Identify all the choices available to you based on the information you gathered. You most likely have several different options to choose from. You don’t need to weigh the pros and cons of each yet -- that’s for later.
Step 4 - Weigh the evidence
Assess your options for feasibility, acceptability, and desirability. This is when you weigh the pros and cons of each option to figure out which is best for your business and team. Be sure to get input from others.
Step 5 - Choose among alternatives
Make sure you’re crystal clear about all the options available to you and that you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons of each. Don’t spend too much time being indecisive. Be objective and decide based on the evidence you gathered in the prior steps.
Step 6 - Take action
Figure out who needs to be involved, how to allocate resources to this plan, and how to get support from all of the stakeholders. Be prepared to explain how you came to this decision and answer any questions.
Step 7 - Review the decision and consequences
Don’t overlook the review and self-feedback phase. Assess whether you weighed all the consequences well and if you followed the decision-making process in a way that had the best result. Grade yourself so you can improve in the future.