Learning to be strategic
This article is motivated by the outcome of a recent and deep interaction between me and one of my mentees. He is not a pharmacist and he does not have the grounding of a typical salesman. He is an accountant by training and he spent the whole of his youth working as an auditor.
By providence, however, he found himself as the sole driver of sales in his organisation early this year after some level of training in and exposure to pharmaceutical salesmanship and management. He proved himself almost immediately, surpassing the records of those (supposedly with the right qualification and experience) who had been entrusted with the same assignment in the past. His major strengths are: commitment, dedication, loyalty, drive and integrity. He goes the proverbial ‘extra mile’ to deliver results and he is extremely passionate about his work.
However, I noticed that he often carried out his tasks all alone; so I continuously advised him to be strategic to get more output per unit of input. At the last meeting, I asked if he knew what it meant to be strategic and the answer provided indicated a gap in knowledge. We searched the internet together and got some materials that provided, in simple language, the definition of being strategic.
I found the product of our simple and unplanned exercise so fascinating that I called a meeting of the managers in my company to discuss the topic: Learning to be Strategic. The lessons learnt went beyond being excellent at delivering results in an organisation, to doing things better at personal, family and relationship levels.
To be strategic means that you do not react immediately and equally to everything. We do not live in a world where 1+1 will always equal 2. In Nigeria, so many things have changed fundamentally in the past 12 months and we are all living witnesses to the consequences of these changes. It is the nature of our world. Nothing is static. The assumptions are changing by the minute and to remain afloat, we have to anticipate the happenings before they occur and have a contingency plan on how to handle each case.
The cause of low sales in one region may be entirely different from that of other regions; therefore, the sales manager’s reaction cannot be the same for all regions. At home, it is important to understand what makes your partner (or children or neighbour) to behave the way they do and then devise a means to handle each person and each situation appropriately, rather than a spontaneous reaction which tends to create further mistrust and division.
To be strategic requires being holistic in your approach. Your emphasis or concern should be on the complete system (that is the overall, big picture) rather than the individual parts. And this comes with a sound knowledge and understanding of the business. This aspect is very important for people in sales who are always thinking about volume without a consideration for cost and the impact of their activities on the image of the company and the brand that they are promoting.
Without business understanding, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to deliver results on a consistent basis. It is, therefore, very important for each individual in an organisation to know how his activities, results (or lack of it) impact on the total company.
To be strategic means consciously deciding how you want to invest your time and doing what you have planned to do. Time is one of the most important resources we have as individuals and organisations. It is always there waiting to be used or, as some do, misused. It waits for no one, being permanently and rigidly on auto-run. It is, therefore, up to you (and the managers of an organisation) to decide on how to use it.
It is better and more purposeful to decide, in advance, how you want to use your time. By so doing, you will be able to eliminate time wasters, get more results per unit of time and live a better life.
The execution ability is also important here. You have to be resolute in your determination to do what you have planned to do and one major tool is to avoid procrastination, distractions and remaining focussed. If anyone fails to do this, such person will be left wondering, all the time: what have I done with my time? It is not enough for the work to be good; it has to be timely.
To be strategic means conceiving, leading, and implementing necessary changes and transformation. The notion that change is certain appears to be the only thing in the world that never changes.
To remain in ‘good health’ as an individual or as an organisation, it is important to anticipate the change that will, of necessity, occur in the system and the environment of business and personal lives. It means that you do not rest on your oars, as you have to be scanning the environment permanently for scent of the changes that will occur now or later.
We are in serious economic crisis in Nigeria today because our leaders failed to anticipate that a day like this was coming. If they did, they would have saved the money they squandered on frivolities and preserved the real sector for economic growth.
Your children will not and cannot live the life you lived, no matter the length and frequency of your sermons. The entire space has changed. They have access to information in minutes than you ever had in all your years. Good parenting will, therefore, mean that you know about this fundamental shift and have a plan to handle it.
Understanding investments and risks
Being strategic means that you understand investments, impacts, outcomes, costs, risks and consequences. A lot of people rush into things without a deep understanding of what they set out to do. There is nothing like a ‘free lunch’ because there is always a price tag. It is important to think deeply before you commit yourself or your organisation to a venture, agreement or transaction.
Risk-taking is associated with returns but you have to understand the cost, consequences and impact of the risk that you are about to take. In some cases, it is good to prepare risk cushions in advance of your actions.
Being strategic means assessing the need for, and building support systems. As good as you are or your organisation is, you cannot last forever. It is important that you carefully design and build support systems, as this will help in achieving predictable success on long-term projects and goals.
Being strategic means evolving your role to meet the changing business needs and always considering what adds the most value, not just working hard. It is always important to ask the question persistently about what value you are adding to the system. If you have been good before, are you still good now? What will the company miss if you are no longer there?
- http://www.leadershipmutt.com/2010/09/that-strategy-thing-part-1-thinking-strategically.html: Accessed on Friday, 17thJune, 2016
- http://www.profitguide.com/manage-grow/strategy-operations/what-does-it-really-mean-to-think-strategically-45900: Accessed on Saturday, 18thJune, 2016