Becoming the Boss: Tips for Developing a Strategic Vision

The best managers drive employee engagement by communicating a shared vision that connects employees’ daily work to the organization’s overall mission.

However, based on the results of a recent survey, there’s definitely room for improvement in this area. Some 37 percent of tech workers say their CEO needs to improve their vision and strategy. Moreover, a third said that, if they were the boss, a better vision and strategy for their company would be their highest priority and the first thing they would work on.

If you want to move up the ladder, there’s no time to lose: You must figure out how to articulate a solid strategic vision. Here are some steps you can take today to master this critical skill and prepare for a future role as a team lead or manager.

Observe

Individual contributors can start honing their “vision skills” by gathering intelligence about where their team or functional area is headed, and how their role fits within the overall strategy.

In other words, think of yourself as a business within a business, advised Stephanie Mead, senior VP at the Center for Management & Organizational Effectiveness. To create a personal vision statement, you must first become aware.

“Look up, out and broadly to assess where the organization and your department are headed and what you can contribute or influence to add strategic value,” Mead said. “You don’t need to look five years out; just focus on what you want to accomplish over the next three to six months.”

For example, the Alzheimer’s Association does an excellent job of creating and communicating a strategic vision that translates into actions at a more granular level, noted Bart Perkins, a former CIO and managing partner at Leverage Partners, Inc. But even if your company hasn’t already articulated a clear and concise vision, its culture can offer clues about where things are going: A strong culture often communicates a company’s values, priorities and practices that guide the way its business units operate. 

Translate Goals Into Action

Once you understand the overall strategy, pinpoint a few strategic priorities for you and your teammates. How can you support the development of new products or the company’s goal of expanding into new markets (or contribute to research breakthroughs if you work for an academic, scientific or non-profit organization)?

Translating the overarching strategy for the company and department into measurable objectives and daily tasks will help you and your colleagues understand how various roles and responsibilities make a difference. Plus, it will help you master a key best practice known as cascading goals. Knowing how to create aligned goals or line of sight between the company’s strategy and employees’ daily activities will help you communicate your strategy and ensure seamless execution.

“Most managers and executives are able to formulate a strategy statement, but they struggle to execute because they fail to get buy-in across the enterprise,” Perkins said. “The notion of cascading is an important part of the communication process.”

Focus on Execution

Creating a strategic plan is the easy part—executing is hard. In fact, studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies. Honing this skill can cement your success at the next level.

Operationalize your plan by breaking down activities into small pieces, creating ownership at the individual level, and using milestones to track progress and highlight successes. Establishing appropriate metrics for you and your teammates can help you identify obstacles, make course corrections and turn a strategic vision into reality.

“You don’t have to sit around patiently waiting for your promotion to kick in,” Mead said. “Developing and communicating a strategic vision is definitely something that emerging leaders can learn to do.”

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