Often the leaders I coach will ask me how they can become more strategic. I loved this post by my friend Patty Azzarello so much that I’ve re-posted most of it here. You can find out more about Patty below.
Becoming more valuable and being more strategic are connected.
What do I mean by “being strategic”?
- The opposite of reacting immediately and equally to everything
- Overall, big picture, business understanding
- Deciding on purpose, how you want to invest your time, and doing it
- Conceiving of, leading, and implementing necessary change and transformation
- Understanding investments, impact, outcomes, costs, risks and consequences
- Assessing the need for, and building support systems
- Achieving predictable success on long term projects and goals
- Evolving your role to meet changing business needs
- …always considering what adds the most value, not just working hard
What adds value?
Sometimes when you get to work in the morning, even after your second coffee, it’s tough to answer the question, “What should I specifically do to add more value?” Also, if you feel like you are already working yourself to death, it seems like you couldn’t possibly do any more.
This is an important point: Adding more value does not mean working even harder and being even busier.
That’s where being strategic comes in — Because one important aspect of being strategic is figuring out how to deliver a better result with less effort. Not only is the result more valuable, but the cost of delivering it is lower.
When you figure out how to do something better with less cost, you impact profit now, and into the future.
It’s not that complicated. But you do need to give yourself time to think. That’s the first strategic habit.
Then you have to tune how you work. Don’t get stuck working on the same things the same way for years and years.
You need to always be thinking better ways to do things, and tuning your job description to add more value as the business changes and grows.
Here are some specific things to consider for how to add more value:
1. Who uses my work & what do they need most?
- Who are the consumers of each piece of work that I do?
- Do they still use it? Do they still need it?
- Do they pass it on to others? What do those people need?
- Can the content I deliver be modified to be more useful or relevant?
- Can the manner in which I deliver it be improved to be more useful or relevant?
Note: Stop producing work no one cares about.
Check! I know so many organizations that are over-busy producing reports, analysis, or sales and marketing that no one uses. Don’t burn up your time on things that no one cares about. DO actively learn what they find most useful, and tune what you produce to be more valuable.
Ask. Do less. And make it more useful.
2. What business outcomes does my work drive?
- What is the business outcome that happens as a result of my producing this work?
- How does my work impact profit?
- Does my work impact quality, innovation, efficiency, competitiveness, cost reduction, process improvement, sales effectiveness…
- Can I tune my work to create a better or different business outcome?
Note: If you can’t connect your work to a business outcome, you are in danger of not being relevant.
If you are not relevant you are not adding enough value. You need to stay educated on the most important outcomes the business is driving and stay connected with them.
Even if you are a cost center providing an internal service, you need to find ways to improve efficiency or usefulness.
3. What does my work cost?
- How much does it cost the company for me to do this work?
- Can it be done for less?
- What happens to my work after it’s delivered?
- What are the downstream costs of the things that I do?
- Who else does my work cause work or costs for?
- Is there a way to make my work more efficient for others?
Note: Own improving the outcomes your work causes, not just delivering the work.
Always be finding ways to take cost out. If you do things manually or in a chaotic reactive mode, how many people are impacted by this? How can you create a process to streamline the work, make it less complicated, and require fewer touch points, questions, or follow-ups?
4. What has changed?
- What has changed in the market since I started this job?
- What has changed in our customers’ business since I started this job?
- What has changed in our competitors’ business since I started this job?
- What has changed inside our company since I started this job?
- Do these changes require a change in the way my job is done?
Note: If you are not evolving your job, you will no longer be qualified when the game changes.
Or you will be doing the wrong job, and your job will get eliminated. Be the one to recommend changing your job to meet the evolving business needs.
5. Growth & Scaling
- How much has the company grown since I started this job?
- How much does the company plan to grow in the future?
- What still works in the way I do my job if the company is much bigger?
- Which things about how I do my job don’t work if the company is bigger?
Note: When companies get bigger all the jobs change.
You can’t keep using the same way of working. It doesn’t scale. You can be the one to build a new process that will scale, or you can be the one who gets pushed aside by someone with experience at a bigger company.
6. Help others
- What can I do to communicate better?
- How can I share more knowledge?
- How can I teach someone to be more effective?
- How can I help someone step into a bigger role?
- How can I help someone believe that something bigger is possible for them.
Note: If you are not helping others, you are not adding enough value.
The other upside is that helping others can put a meaning into an otherwise unfulfilling job. If you are feeling unsatisfied about being in a corporate role that doesn’t make enough difference in the world, help someone.
When you help someone else, you change the world for that person.
What is “exceptional”?
Just as an aside a point on employee ranking. I have a lot of conversations with organizations who get in the habit of ranking a the vast majority of their employees as “exceptional” because they do a good job at their job. That is not exceptional – that is doing your job.
What I always considered to be the kind of exceptional performance that warrants the “top” ranking are the few people who did an excellent job of both delivering excellent results in their job, AND taking it upon themselves to do many of the things in this list of questions. Another way to think about being exceptional is that it means delivering extra value.
I see a lot of people thinking that answering these questions is not part of their job. They wait for others to answer them, and await new instructions from their manager. It’s dangerous to rely on your job description to tell you what to do, or to wait for your manager to tune your job along the way.
It’s much safer (and your are adding more value) when you do it yourself. Take that weight off your manager. You decide what needs to get done to drive the future goals and continue to add the most value.
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Adviser. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). Patty was recently featured in Forbes Magazine in their Women We Love column. You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com.