Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Success Begins With Strategic Thinking

Success in any business or profession requires having a clear vision of where you are going, and what your "rules of the road" are. Vision and values is where it all begins. The motivation is having your business or profession "become" something. This is how a business creates long-term sustainable growth, and how a career creates long-term reward and fulfillment.

Strategic thinking means starting from the 100,000 foot level of what your endeavor is to become, and working your way down to the trenches level and identifying individual action steps. One of the most important deliverables of strategic thinking is the business/career plan, and it should answer the question: "what are the priorities and action steps for the next month, quarter, etc?".

Planning out a business/career strategy can be framed into the following steps:
Step 1. Visioning
I am amazed at how often this step is skipped. The result is that many entrepreneurs and professionals will needlessly wander in mediocrity.

An organizational or career vision is a statement of potential, and a statement of direction. A vision statement is a description of what you or your endeavor is to become. Entrepreneurs should ask: "what do I want my company to be known for; and what do we want people to think of when they hear our company name mentioned?". Professionals should ask "What do I want to be known for; how do I want others to remember me?"

Step 2. Strategic Thinking and Planning
The term "strategic thinking" can be defined as the process that determines the future direction of the organization. This is where you give careful thought to what you want and where your passions are. You think about your strengths, and weaknesses, and your opportunities. Where do you have advantage, and how can you exploit that advantage? Very rarely do people actually take the time and energy to do this in a meaningful way. The likelihood for a business plan or career plan to create any success depends on how well and diligently this step is carried out.

Step 3. Documenting the Plan
Writing the business/career plan is the process that actualizes the strategic thinking. During the planning process, your mission is crystallized into specific goal categories. These categories are used to help breakdown goals to identify action steps. In an organization with multiple departments, each will have a mission and business plan which is their contribution to the organization's mission. The progressive achievement of the mission or all of the departmental missions will propel the entire organization toward the realization of its vision.

Step 4. Implementing the Plan
The real key to the success of this process is action. Vision alone does not ensure success. Even the most well conceived plan will not ensure success without action steps and measurement. Without action steps, time frames, and accountability the process is just a mental exercise that does little to create progress, much less success. How many times have you heard of a formal, elaborate business plan sitting on a shelf gathering dust? How about the executive resume that has not been updated for years? Without action, nothing happens, and nothing improves.

Step 5. Review and Continuous Improvement
Be sure that you are measuring your results. Peter Drucker has told us that "you cannot manage what is not measured." Success relies on careful execution and progress needs to be measured and quantified on a regular basis. Success relies on continued learning and improvement of the plan and adjusting the action steps accordingly.

During this step, there will be mistakes and setbacks. But that is not the same as failure! Missteps are an inevitability when innovating and testing new approaches. Challenging the comfort zones and stretching the performance envelope means a little risk, and some lessons learned. History has shown this to be true even for gurus like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Turn these setbacks into a positive experience by focusing on the lessons learned and using them going forward. These lessons are a business advantage if you use them that way. Your success will depend on you staying positive and motivated and focused.

Remember: A successful business or career must have a focus on the long term vision. Dwelling on the present, or the next paycheck, or the next quarterly financial statement will only deliver mediocre or unsustainable results. Growth opportunities are difficult to recognize when you lack clarity on your future vision. Planning your vision is not an option. You can take control of your destiny and the destiny of your business, but you must make a conscious decision to assume that control.

Who is in control of YOUR destiny?

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