Strategy is a hot topic of conversation in the business sector these days. One of the most common questions leaders ask during CMOE’s Applied Strategic Thinking and Strategic Leadership workshops is, “How much time should I be devoting to strategy?”
Like so many other professionals, most business leaders are low on time, and the idea that they have to cram one more responsibility onto an already over-full plate can feel a little daunting—and it may even inspire some resentment.
Non-strategic, operational tasks can absorb huge quantities of time and attention—they are the sponges of the business world. Unfortunately, these activities must be done in order for the business to maintain its momentum, but they won’t help the business move to the next level.
That’s where strategy comes in.
One of the most interesting things about strategy is that strategic planning is less about the quantity of time spent working on it and more about the quality of that time. It takes mental discipline to put all else aside and concentrate on strategic initiatives, especially because they may not show their value to the business for some time. This lack of immediacy can be frustrating.
Many people, leaders and individual contributors alike, are addicted to being busy. We like having our days filled. It makes us feel accomplished, like we’re important people doing important work, and we tend to affiliate the weight of our daily workload with the necessity of the tasks needing our prompt attention.
Allowing our time to be consumed by daily preoccupations feels good because completing operational tasks results in an immediate payoff: “This is what was required of me, and this is what I did to fill that need.”
Strategic planning requires you to be methodical in your approach; you’ll need to devote your undivided attention to it, and you’ll need to be mindful of your pace.
Rushing the process will negatively impact the quality of your end result, and no matter how little time you may have spent on it, it will still be time that you’ve ultimately wasted—and nobody has that time to spare.
Being careful and thoughtful in your approach to strategy creation does not mean, however, that this process needs to drag on indefinitely. In fact, at a certain point, it’s better to move beyond the conceptual phase and simply begin. You will never be privy to every variable that could affect your strategy.
Once you have, you’ll simply need to pay attention to what’s working and what’s not working as well, and make adjustments as necessary. Strategy is flexible, and the people who create it must be flexible in turn.
Strategic work requires people to make a mental shift. They must cultivate the willingness to accept uncertainty and ambiguity, as well as the patience to allow the business’ unique strategy to evolve and mature naturally over time.
Strategy is not a “once and done” task. Trying to sit down and push through the strategy-creation process in an afternoon simply isn’t realistic. Good, solid strategy simply doesn’t develop in that way. But what you can do in a single afternoon is begin to develop a habit: putting a small amount of time aside each day or each week to work on your strategy. And that’s the key.
The most important thing to remember about strategy is to work on it. Pledge 15 minutes a day or an hour a week, and fulfill your promise to yourself. Uphold that commitment. Schedule the time as if it were a meeting with an important client.
Commit to making strategy a part of your routine, regardless of how busy you are with the business’ operational demands.
Ignore the time element that people typically affiliate with creating great strategy; thoughtful strategic discipline is what will make the greatest difference, and you’ll see it in the long-term success and bottom-line results of your organization.
What are the methods that you use to make strategy a part of your everyday routine?