Leadership: Three components of a good strategy

Jo Miller
Jo Miller

Perhaps you are a good tactician, known for your ability to get your job done and deliver results.

But what if you were asked to move into a position that required you to be more strategic?

How would you make the transition from being reactive to thinking and acting strategically? And what exactly is “strategy,” anyway?

Ellie Pidot is vice president of strategy at Medtronic, where she works closely with the CEO and senior management team to lead the development of corporate strategy and improve the quality of strategic decision-making companywide.

So what is a seasoned strategic executive’s definition of strategy? In a style refreshingly free from business jargon, Pidot explained that “Strategy is a fancy word for coming up with a long-term plan and putting it into action.”

In addition to developing corporate strategy at the highest level with the senior executive team, Pidot also works with Medtronic’s eight business units and various regions worldwide, helping to facilitate their strategic planning process. One of her top tips for being strategic is “collaborate, collaborate, collaborate,” and her approach to strategy creation involves serving as a thought partner to executives across the company.

Pidot begins by asking questions that provoke the type of deeply reflective thinking that enables a business or region to develop its own strategy. Typical questions she recommends asking when formulating a strategy are:

  •  What are your customers’ unmet needs? How should your strategy address them?
  •  How will your markets be different in the future than they are today?
  •  What can you do to position yourself for the future?
  •  What is the business case for your investments?
  •  How will you measure and track performance to ensure impact?

But what if you are not leading a business but are an individual contributor who is trying to be more strategic?

Pidot recommends asking similar questions while imagining your boss as a customer.

“Ask yourself, what are your customer’s unmet needs — meaning, what is it that your boss wants and needs,” she said.

Reflect on your job description and what you know about your boss, and how you could make his or her life easier.

“Look for ways to better predict the kinds of things that they want you to do,” she said. “By coming up with a list, you can probably anticipate those needs better.

“Have a bias for action and get things done. Have milestones — check them off and follow through.

“Come up with a plan, and think ahead in a way that is proactive. Being strategic is about having a long-term plan and putting it into action,” she said.

“It almost sounds silly to think of that as a strategy, but it really is.”

Three components of a good strategy

Pidot recommends that any good strategy needs three characteristics: to be forward looking, aspirational and grounded in facts.

1. Be focused on the long-term and forward-looking

Pidot advises that to be effective, a strategy must be forward-looking.

“To move from getting caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job and become more strategic, you need to be looking ahead,” Pidot said.

She recommends asking yourself, “What is the world going to look like, five or 10 years from now? How are the dynamics that I am operating in going to change over time? How can I put into place a set of actions to get me to where the world is going to be?”

2. Be aspirational, while recognizing constraints

A good strategy needs to be aspirational, while recognizing your starting point and constraints.

“You need to be bold enough in your aspirations that you can get excited about it because you are going to spend a lot of time working on your strategy,” Pidot said. “But at the same time recognize where you are today, and what constraints you might have on the potential actions that are at your disposal.

“It is a careful balance. You can’t get too far ahead of yourself, but at the same time you don’t want to limit yourself.”

3. Be grounded in facts

A common misconception about strategy is that it requires thinking at the high level and not digging down into the detail.

When asked by a would-be strategist, “How can I get out of the detail and be more strategic?,” Pidot advised: “One of the common reasons that strategies fail is that they are not grounded in facts, data and a deep understanding of your customers and business environment.

“One of the most important elements of strategy is moving away from ‘managing by anecdote’ and developing a much more systematic approach using facts, data and analysis.”

Take time to think

A final key to becoming more strategic is to take the time to think.

“We all have challenges and our days are jam-packed. We are running from meeting to meeting, trying to accomplish more in less time,” Pidot said.

“It feels sometimes like we don’t even have the time to get our job done, let alone have time to step back. But I can’t overemphasize how important it is to have unstructured time with yourself or with your team, just to think.

“An agenda-less hour or two is critical for generating creativity and different thinking.”

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