7 Ways to Be More Strategic in Your Everyday Work
This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.
You don’t need a team-wide offsite or shiny new initiative in order to be strategic. The best — or at least most practical — way to be strategic is within your day-to-day work.
These quick tactics and processes can help you make strategic use of the information you have (or can easily get) so that you can make better decisions with better results. Browse the list and pick what tactics will work best for your situation.
1. Analyze your own intuitions so you can learn where to keep applying them — or not.
What do you use to make predictions, such as whether a client will renew or the effort, time, and resources you need to complete a project? To some extent, you rely on your intuitions (your “gut”) — beliefs formed from your own experiences.
Most people just act on their intuitions, for better or worse. But if you’re able to identify and articulate your intuitions, you’ll be able to compare them to past outcomes, gauge in which situations they lead you to make good or bad choices, and calibrate how you use them in the future.
To gain more from your intuitions:
- Write down the gut feelings you typically rely on. It may be hard to just think up a list. Instead, keep a running list as you notice you have gut reactions about things. Some examples might be:
- I’m comfortable ignoring the renewal data forecast if I have a good feel for a client.
- If I’ve done a type of project a few times, I’m confident in how long it will take me to do it again.
- Clarify any fuzzy aspects of your intuitions. For example, does “a good feel for a client” mean that you have good personal rapport? Or that they’re happy in the two aspects that you believe foreshadow a renewal?
- Check historical data to see how well your intuitions have worked for you. For example, look back at the last several clients you had “a good feel” for or times you did a familiar type of project. What does the data tell you?
- Based on what you learn, keep applying your intuitions — or stop. If you have had a good track record of easily hitting deadlines for a certain type of project, then keep using your approach. On the other hand, if you committed to deadlines for the project type and struggled to meet them, then it’s time to analyze why (for example, you neglected to factor in your other work or a dependency on a colleague’s availability) and adjust accordingly.
2. In addition to your stated goal metrics, which are often “lag” measures, identify and track a set of “lead” measures.
By the time you see your goal metric results — sales numbers, customer satisfaction scores, reduction in errors or costs over a period of time — it’s too late to do anything about them. Yet many people remain laser focused on tracking only these “lag” measures, as they’re called in FranklinCovey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution.
As the authors explain, “lead” measures, which often are behavior-based and can be tracked daily or weekly, can have an impact on changing those end results. For example, for a sales person trying to meet a quarterly sales quota, lead measures could be the volume of prospecting calls you make, the number of prospects accepting a demo, or the frequency you propose upsells. Tracking and improving these kinds of measures help you focus on the right behaviors needed to achieve your goal.
To develop a list of possible lead measures, try asking yourself questions like:
- What’s one thing I could do to improve my chances of achieving my goal?
- What’s a weakness that holds me back from reaching my goal? What could I do more consistently?
Then pick one lead measure to implement and track it to see how it influences your lag measure. It may take trial and error to find a lead measure that actually influences your lag measure.
3. Seek information to help you expand your view of what leaders and other teams are focused on.
If you’re overfocused on your day-to-day tasks, you could be missing out on a key way to improve your performance — connecting with your manager and colleagues across your organization about what leaders and other teams are thinking and deciding. Learning about the bigger picture of your company helps you see ways to adjust your role and deliver more value on the most important things.
Leaders don’t always think to share this information proactively, so in your next 1-on-1 ask your manager questions like:
- “What high-level information have you heard this week that could impact our team?”
- “Have you heard any updates on the logistics project and when it might happen? Knowing that would help me set my schedule for next month.”
- “I just heard that the design team is focused on X — how might that impact what we do?”
And make time to learn from teammates and colleagues by setting up peer 1-on-1s or maximizing chance encounters or in the few minutes before a meeting gets going. Try asking questions like, “So, what are you working on?” or “What are you excited about right now?” or “What’s your biggest challenge?” to start a quick conversation that could lead to a fruitful exchange of information or ideas.
4. Do a brief what-if test to surface ways to improve your current plans.
What obstacles or challenges might be waiting to derail your plan? Or could there be a way to make your plan more efficient — if only you were open to seeing it? By thoughtfully running through relevant hypothetical scenarios, you may uncover factors that allow you to improve your strategy ahead of time.
For example, ask yourself (and your collaborators) questions like:
- What if we had only one month to do this instead of two? In forcing your plan to be more efficient, you may discover ways to streamline your current plan even though you have a longer time frame.
- What if we had an unlimited budget to do it? You might identify an area in which to suggest even more investment, even if it means having less to spend in another area of your plan.
- What if we knew that a competitor was launching something similar a month ahead of us? This exercise might cause you to change how you prioritize features and modify your plan proactively.
Another good way to surface holes in your plan ahead of time: Hold a premortem with project stakeholders. Imagine that your plan has failed and explore why.
5. Consider how you can increase the percentage of proactive versus reactive work you do.
Proactive work leads to growth and innovation, while reactive work maintains the status quo. Even if you have a role that largely requires reactive tasks (for example, customer service representative or cashier), there’s almost always a way to make time for more forward-thinking work, like implementing a new idea or process improvement.
Take your ideas for improvement to your manager and peers to see what they think — and what additional ideas they might have. Then, to make more time to try out winning ideas, you might suggest to your manager that you could:
- Prioritize time for proactive tasks and let reactive tasks wait.
- Stop attending nonessential meetings about reactive work.
- Stop doing reactive work that doesn’t absolutely need to be done.
6. At a regular interval, add one quality contact or resource to your network.
It’s all too easy to read the same industry blogs and talk to your same comfortable group of peers and mentors. The result? You wind up in an echo chamber of the same ideas and observations, almost certainly missing the kinds of fresh perspectives that will help you make better decisions.
Broadening your horizon need not be difficult or time consuming, but it does take discipline. On an interval that makes sense for you — maybe monthly or quarterly — ask yourself:
- Where could I use fresh input? Maybe you determine you need to dig in to an emerging technical aspect of what you do. Or maybe you could use some advice on navigating office politics in your organization.
- What’s the single best source for this input? Depending on your situation, “best” could mean the easiest way to get quick input on a regular basis or an expert who might yield a good insight once a year or something else entirely. In any case, strive for a source that will become more informative over time as you develop knowledge or rapport with the source.
Then, of course, reach out to make the connection.
7. Revisit your strategies regularly.
You can’t just set a plan or process in motion, let it play out forever, and call yourself strategic. On whatever time frame works for you (monthly or quarterly), set aside 30 minutes to reflect on whatever strategies you’ve implemented or should be implementing.
Are you slipping back into doing too much reactive work? Have conditions changed so the intuition you’ve been relying on is no longer as effective? Being strategic is a process that never ends.