Weed Control (Part 3): How can you become a strategic thinker?

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Previously on “Weed Control,” we talked about the importance of strategic thinking and what strategic thinking looks like. Today, we look at some specific actions you can take to become and be known as a strategic thinker.

Before we look at how to become a strategic thinker, it is good to see some of the distractions that can keep us in the weeds:

  • Often, we stay in the weeds because we have a technical bias — “we fix stuff”
  • We are also rewarded to stay in the weeds – “I’m rewarded when I fix stuff”
  • We may have a fear of getting out of the weeds – “No one else can fix my stuff the way I can”
  • Unstated expectations may keep us in the weeds – “Fixing stuff is my job”
  • And, we become too comfortable in the weeds – “I’d rather fix stuff than anything else”

Despite these distractions, we need to get out of the weeds and become a strategic thinker. Here are some ways or action we can take to become a strategic thinker:

  1. Confirm expectations and critical success factors for your position – things change and what you might have thought were expectations at the beginning of the year may not be what is needed now – by understanding these expectations better, we can more clearly see the path to the future
  2. Get out-of-your-box – we need to change our thinking from “why it can’t be done” to “what can I do to make it happen”. Our management does NOT want to hear our excuses or reasons, they want us to find a way to make things happen. Be creative and do something no one else has ever done before!
  3. Seek the input of others – no one can solve every problem alone. Find someone else (a coach, mentor, or friend) that will listen to us and help us be objective in finding solutions to our problems. Find that innovative friend that can help shape our early thoughts into a masterful solution!
  4. Anticipate change – remember, nothing stays the same in life or business. Think ahead to how things will be different and begin now to craft a new approach.
  5. Think “big picture” – a strategic thinker gets out of the weeds and looks beyond today or beyond this year. Short-term victories are good, but this is a marathon, not a sprint!
  6. Be introspective about your career – where do you want to be 5 years from now? Can you get there from here? If not, what actions are needed today? Look at yourself like a hiring manager. Do you have all the skills that make you the automatic choice when that opening arises?
  7. Take initiative! For example:
    1. Network with others to become better known AND to learn about what you want or need next in your career
    2. Create your own opportunities – don’t just assume that path to your future is a straight line
    3. Be seen and known as one that “gets it done”
    4. Think and act as though you own the company – take the action needed, say the things needed, do what others will not do
    5. Re-think relocation – being mobile could be a significant career enhancer
    6. Be bold! – you will be surprised what happens when you become known as one that will be candid and open rather than as one that simply follows others

So, there you have it! Get out of the weeds.  Take charge of your future.  Move the needle in your job, your function, your company.  Don’t expect that significant change in your career if you are content to keep pulling weeds by hand.

Have an awesome day! There is still a chance… this could be our very best day yet!

 

Weed Control (Part 2): How will I know strategic thinking when I see it?

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Yesterday in Part 1 of “Weed Control,” we looked at the importance of strategic thinking. Today, we answer the questions, “What does strategic thinking look like?  How will I know it when I see it?”

You remember from yesterday the reasons that strategic thinking is important. It is an essential driver for your career and it helps ensure our company/function is relentless in our pursuit of excellence.  So, let’s now look at attributes of strategic thinkers:

  1. Strategic thinkers… understand customer needs and expectations and continually seeks customer input – First, we need to understand that “customer” can refer to our end user, our boss, another function, a regulatory, or anyone else dependent upon the input of our work. A strategic thinker must have a thorough understanding of the end goal – what are we working to accomplish? They must understand the goal, our strategy for reaching that goal, and the key activities needed to achieve it. This applies to us on a large-scale (e.g., company-scale) and as individuals. We must understand what it is that we do or should do that will make a difference to our team, our unit, or the company. A strategic thinker asks frequently, “What am I doing that will result in a pay-back or return-on-investment to the company? How did I earn my salary today? Is the company better because of what I am doing? What value did I add to my spouse/children/friends/neighbors/coworkers today?” In short, strategic thinkers understand what others need from us and their key motivation every day is to meet that need.
  2. Strategic thinkers… are innovative, creative, drive out-of-the-box solutions, and take calculated risks to achieve results – Yes, it is true… you can be successful without strategic thinking, but your success will likely be limited. Strategic thinkers drive the unexpected and often don’t simply follow the rules. Just like the salmon that swims upstream each summer to its birthplace, strategic thinkers must often be the contrarian… the one that takes a bold stand that no one else will take. They intentionally look for the innovative or new approach, are typically willing to scrap the old and find the new, and they understand that life and work is not a zero-risk proposition. A strategic thinker cannot be found in the rut of the everyday, mundane drudgery.
  3. Strategic thinkers… anticipate change – Change is the one constant we must all deal with. Tell me… what has NOT changed in your work or home environment in the last 5 years? I would say that for most of us, we are not in the same role doing the same things now we were doing a year or two ago. Change will occur, so a strategic thinker knows this, anticipates this, and takes action now before it hits. Individuals that are always caught off guard on change are not strategic thinkers. A strategic thinker knows that they must be constantly alert to what is coming and prepare in advance both for their current function and for their career.
  4. Strategic thinkers… work toward broad, longer-term solutions and are not focused only on today’s agonizing detailsA strategic thinker measures every action against the broader, longer-term reality. Before every decision is made, they ask, “How will this affect others? What other actions are needed to mitigate negative impacts?” They do not charge ahead and worry about the details later. They calibrate actions against the strategy and ask, “Will this help or hurt me in achieving our long-term goals?” Management rewards individuals that can look into the future and reasonable prevent issues there by taking actions today.

 

So, are you a strategic thinker? How do you need to adjust your approach?  Keep in mind, that your career will dramatically change (for the better) when you become a strategic thinker and drive longer-term results.

 

Thanks for all you do! Have a tremendous day!

Weed Control (Part 1): The importance of strategic thinking

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I was recently asked to provide a presentation to an organization on strategic thinking. So, when I considered how best to articulate this in a practical way, I chose to use the analogy of “staying out of the weeds.”  This shifted to “weed control.”  Thus, the title of this.  Today, we look at the importance of weed control (strategic thinking) to our company and your career.

CEB, Inc. (a management service company) recently conducted a survey of several thousand leaders of regulated functions across multiple industries as to what competencies were important for success in our companies and in individual careers. They were then asked to rank these competencies in order of our individual effectiveness.  In short, strategic thinking was rated the most important competency for individuals.  Leaders of all businesses said strategic thinking was the most important competency an individual could have to drive success in their organization (this ranked above things like organizing, leading, functional expertise, analyzing, etc.).  And, to top it off, when asked to rank what competencies were done the best, strategic thinking was rated near the bottom.  In short, most do the worst in the competency considered the most important.

Why is strategic thinking so important? There are a number of reasons that driving strategic thinking is of value:

  1. It ensures we are looking at the big picture, while losing focus on the “weeds”
  2. It helps provide a roadway (with rumble strips) to ensure we stay on track
  3. It ensures we understand and constantly verify customer expectations and input
  4. It produces imaginative solutions
  5. It encourages reasoned and calculated risks
  6. It helps us anticipate changes in business conditions and facilitates adaptability
  7. It helps ensure we consider to broader implications of our decisions
  8. It keeps momentum going toward long-term strategy rather than short-term pressures (e.g., weeds)

Strategic thinking is also important for individuals. Senior managers today do NOT reward individuals (typically) that are continually wrapped up in weeds.  They understand that weeds must be dealt with, but they are more interested in the longer-term, broader picture.  Individuals that can see the big picture, summarize issues into key points and provide an approach for solving problems are the individuals that are consider high-potential employees.

So, make no mistake about it…. Becoming a strategic thinker is absolutely critical to our company and your individual career success!  In the next two parts of “Weed Control”, we look at what good strategic thinking looks like (Part 2) and steps we can take as individuals to expand our own ability as strategic thinkers (Part 3).

Thanks for your great work and the encouragement you provide others. Have a weed-free day!

 

 

The Rumble Strips of Life

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You have probably experienced the feeling….  You are driving down the interstate highway and become complacent, then you cross the rumble strips on the right side of the road and the rumble it makes immediately snaps you back to focus and back on the road.  Yes, rumble strips are often found on major roads on both the right and left sides to prevent drivers from driving inadvertently off the side of the road.  Studies have shown that their presence significantly reduce accidents with a 3000 to 5000% return on investment.  Why are these so effective in reducing accidents?  Obviously, they provide an immediate warning to the driver that they are veering off course that, when corrected, will prevent an accident.

Rumble strips are also effective in business to provide an early warning.  For example, the use of statistical process control can provide “control limits” that warn the manufacturing operators that the process may be veering off course.  These limits typically elicit action that prevents the process from producing product that is unacceptable or unsafe.  Having an upper and lower limit for acceptable operation is similar to the rumble strips found along highways.

Similarly, establishing “rumble strips” in our lives can also pay dividends.  For example, creating a monthly financial budget with a system to monitor your spending can help ensure that you don’t generate unacceptable debt or spending issues.  Establishing limits on where you will go and what you will do can help protect you from adverse situations or actions.  The key is to “pre-establish” these limits.  If you wait until you drive off the road, it is too late for a rumble strip to serve any purpose.  Likewise, if you have not pre-established limits on your actions, you may go beyond those limits before you realize it.

Having rumble strips in your career can also be important.  When you determine in advance how to maintain a proper work/life balance, you will better prioritize your time and avoid an imbalance in either aspect of your life.  Again, thinking about this and making specific decisions in advance are critical.  Think about what rumble strips you have established and what additional ones you might need.  Today is a good day to establish these.

Thanks for making a difference!  Have a fabulous, “top ten” day!

 

Boldness – A Career Accelerator!

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Over the years, I have witnessed an increasing lack of boldness in business environments.  It might not quite be called “fear”, but it is certainly an unwillingness to take reasoned risks.  I’m sure some feel that it is better for their career to stay safe (or not take any risks) than to challenge the status quo and act.  Some examples:

  • Many individuals fear making a decision until they have obtained concurrence from a large number of other individuals – in essence, they seek to get many others in the boat with them before making a final decision – as a result, actions are delayed, important activities are stymied, and individuals become frustrated by a lack of progress while the true decision-maker is busy finding others with which to share the potential blame
  • Some individuals in regulated roles (Quality and EHS, for example) live in fear of ever having to explain their actions to the regulatory inspectors – thus, there is a need to overdo everything such that no questions could ever arise – as a result, important changes do not get implemented, we sample/test where it is not needed, and we fail to utilize appropriate science to manage important activities of our business
  • Some procrastinate making decisions by continually asking for new information, additional data, more meetings, etc. – these delaying tactics accomplish little and drive frustration for lack of progress

I think most companies and their senior managers thirst for individuals willing to be bold and accomplish key tasks, even when some risks exist.  By understanding and mitigating the major risks, we essentially defer action on things that pose very little risk.  I believe our senior managers see individuals willing to drive for results, willing to be bold, and willing to go where no one else will go as high-potential talent.  In short, I believe that by acting with boldness (e.g., taking some low risks, saying what others are afraid to say, and doing what others are unwilling to do), you will accelerate your own career.  Conversely, if you will never take a risk, will never speak up, and will only act when you have 100% confidence, I say that anyone could do that!  Be different and set yourself apart from the crown – act boldly!

Thanks for making this a better world.  Have an awesome and bold day!

 

Your internal memory card

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The next time you are in a significant event (ballgame, birthday party, beautiful place, etc.) look around. See how many people are trying to capture the moment on a smart phone or camera.  I think you’ll be amazed at the number of cameras you will see.  It seems that in this day of handy-dandy smart phone capabilities coupled with a significant need to share life’s details on social media, everyone attempts to capture every memory on these devices.  And, in doing so, they risk missing the significance of the moment.  I was recently in a beautiful place and someone reminded everyone:

“Don’t get so caught up trying to capture everything on your camera that you forget to record the events and beauty on your internal memory card.” 

What this individual was doing was reminding us that there are some things that we must remember to capture in our memory. A camera will simply not do it justice.  Etching those great and one-time memories in your mind, your internal memory card, will allow you to bring back the moment forever in the future whether or not you carry that smart phone you now feel is so essential.  Someday, when I am old and gray (actually, older and grayer) and my memory starts to fade, I want to be able to recall those special events, such as my children’s weddings, newborn children, nature’s wonders, fun with friends, etc.  I am hopeful that I will etch those memories so deeply in my mind that they will never fade.  How about you?  Are you missing these big events because you are trying too hard to capture photos or videos you may never see again?  Don’t miss it!

Have a wonderful day! This could be our “best day yet… there is still a chance!”

 

Lollipop Moments

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Two of my colleagues recently shared the Ted Talk linked below on leadership.  The video is only around six minutes and definitely worth watching.  However, let me summarize it for you,

Drew Dudley is the speaker and made his presentation at Tedx Toronto 2010.  The key theme is that leadership is not found most commonly in the big things, but is more often seen in the small moments that can have a lasting impact.  Leadership is lived through daily, consistent, heartfelt influence that you have on others.  And, it is not necessarily limited to those we consider “in charge.”

Drew speaks of a time when a young lady he did not know came up to him and told him that he had completely changed her life.  He was puzzled and asked her how.  She related that when she first came to college, she was very apprehensive.  So much so that she wanted to go home even before her parents helped her unpack and left to return home.  They told her that they would honor her wishes and if, on the next day of registration for classes, she did not feel it was right, they would bring her back home. 

Well, she was in one of those long lines to register for classes and had decided that she could not do it.  She was within seconds of leaving the line and telling her parents she wanted to return home with them when this guy came up to her and said hello.  He had a bucket of lollipops in his hand and handed one to the guy next to her in line.  He told the guy to give the lollipop to the girl.  He did and she accepted it.  Drew then said to her parents standing next to her in the line, “Look at that!  First day away from home and she is already taking candy from a stranger!”  The girl told him that at that moment, she realized that there were people there that cared about her and that she would be OK.  She changed her mind and decided to stay in college.  She did, got her degree, and became a success.  She told Drew that that single, simple “lollipop moment” where he was just trying to make a difference in someone’s day made all the difference in her life.

Drew says he doesn’t even remember that moment.  He came to realize it that it is the everyday things that make a difference.  Drew goes on to say that we need to be intentional in creating those small, simple lollipop moments.  We never know when they might occur and who might be impacted, but striving each day to positively impact the lives of others can mean all the difference to them.

Take a look at the video to see for yourself.  You could possible change the life of someone today.  By being intentional, you are demonstrating leadership in a small, but hugely important way.  Striving to create a “lollipop moment” every day can impact the lives of 350 people in just one year.  And, if we can get 100 people doing this, we could create over 25,000 such impactful moments in our workplace every years.  Lollipop moments are examples of leading by example.  How about you?  Will you give it a try?

Thanks for your commitment and dedication to others!  It is great being on this journey with you!  Have a fabulous day!

https://www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership?language=en

 

 

 

Sell what you have!

 

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My wife and I recently took one of those trips you dream about for a lifetime… a cruise to Alaska. The entire trip was enjoyable and the sights were amazing.  One of the towns we visited in Alaska is the small town of Skagway (or as some spell it, Skaguay).  The town has about 900 permanent residents and is a grid of approximately 3 streets by 20 streets… a 15 minute walk anywhere in the town.  There is no doubt the town would have disappeared completely if not for the cruise ship industry.  I’ve heard it said that the most amazing politician in America is the mayor of Skagway who somehow is able to convince 4 – 6 cruise ships each holding 3000 passengers to stop in that town every summer day!

Skagway has an amazing history, amazing views in every direction, but really has little else to offer. Without the cruise ships, the town would have disappeared in the same way that many other Alaskan towns did after the gold rush of the late 1890’s.  But, Skagway developed a means to “sell what it has.”  The town offers shopping, gold rush memorabilia, gold rush history, and glorious views and tours in every direction.  So, despite being such a small town, it offers interesting enough value that cruise participants enjoy visiting for part of a day during their Alaskan visit.

Skagway offers a great example to us, as individuals, as well. Perhaps, we don’t have the education that others have.  Or, the lengthy credentials.  Or, an advocate in senior management.  But, we can “sell what we have” to enhance or advance our career.  We all have something unique that can provide value to others.  Some manage projects well.  Others, drive continuous improvement.  Still others can get things done that no one else can do.  Some always volunteer for the job or project than no one else wants.  But, you will find that every successful person has found that unique offering that brings value to the organization.

So, what is your unique capability, interest, or skill that makes you a valuable employee? What makes you special?  If you do not know, honestly ask others to help you identify it.  Solicit input from your supervisor or those you work with.  Be open to honest feedback, then, once you find it, capitalize on it.  Use that special uniqueness only you can offer in a way that makes you that person everyone wants on their team.  Don’t just blend in and allow yourself to wither away.  Find that “special sauce” and make it something everyone wants!

Thanks for all you do and have a spectacular day!

 

 

Your imprint on others

 

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When you think of other people, what comes to your mind? Do you think of things that person did or will do?  Do you think of things that person said to you?  What comes to mind?  Take a look at a quote by Maya Angelou, an American author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou –

Do you agree? When I think back on people from my past, my first impression is how I feel when I think of that person.  For instance, some memories of people bring a smile.  Others, a feeling of regret, or dread, or sadness.  Take this challenge…. Think of your first grade teacher.  Is your first thought of what he/she said or did?  Or, do you think of how you felt being her student.  I believe the Angelou quote above.  I think our strongest remembrance of people is something deeper than their words or their deeds.  It is that feeling – whether positive or negative – that makes that first impression.

So, the next question, of course, is to consider that imprint we are leaving on those with whom we interact. What do others “feel” when they think of you?  According to Angelou, they probably don’t remember all the things you did or the words you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.  Is your imprint on others a positive one or is it negative?  It is not too late today to begin making that imprint a positive one.

Thanks for all you do! There is a chance that today could be our very best yet!  You just never know when that day might come, so be ready for it!

Is there rhubarb in your future?

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Back in the late 1890’s, gold was discovered in the Alaskan Klondike. It is said that approximately 300,000 individuals made the torturous trip to Alaska to seek their own piece of fortune.  One of these individuals was Henry Clark.  Clark, like so many others, dreamed of striking it rich like the others talked about down south.  The Klondike stampeders faced extreme conditions… bad weather, difficult terrain, and a constant struggle for supplies, such as food and medicine.  Clark found that one of the things plaguing fellow stampeders was vitamin deficiencies.  Scurvy, a result of vitamin C deficiency, was especially harmful.  Clark was a true entrepreneur.  When reaching Skagway, Alaska and seeing the severe effects of scurvy, his outlook completely changed.  He decided that instead of making the torturous trip across the mountains in search of gold, he would put to good use the rhubarb plants he had brought along.  So, he carved out a small piece of land in Skagway and began raising and selling his rhubarb.  Rhubarb is especially rich in vitamins, including vitamin C, and served as a remedy to many for the scurvy they suffered.  Clark became a rich man from his rhubarb.  And, in Skagway, to this day, you can see rhubarb growing all over town in yards, business lots, vacant lots, fence rows, etc.  Clark was opportunistic!  He was able to see things outside his field of vision and took advantage of the opportunity he saw.  He was able to see a need because his field of vision was broad and flexible.

We can learn from Henry Clark. Often, we become so focused on one goal or event or task, that we fail to see other opportunities around us.  Have you ever worked so hard and long on a project that, once it was completed, it no longer had the value you thought when you started?  We need to stay focused, BUT… we need to have a broad field of vision that allows us to see other, potentially more important, opportunities around us.  The thing we’re working on today might not be the most important thing we could or should be working to complete.

So, think about Henry Clark. Think about rhubarb.  What other opportunities are all around you that you might not be open to seeing?  Have you missed your chance for success because you were so focused on the forest (e.g., gold) that you could not see the trees?  Be opportunistic!

Have a fabulous and productive day! Remember, this could be your best day yet, so don’t miss it!