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Creating a Strategic Vision Amid an Unclear Future

By Rebecca Tooley, M.S.Ed., CPT, Vice President, Corporate Learning & Talent Strategy, Swift Transportation

Rebecca Tooley, M.S.Ed., CPT, Vice President, Corporate Learning & Talent Strategy, Swift Transportation

Amid the uncertainty and chaos, you can find your strategy and innovation as well as new discoveries about yourself and your work.

As we kick off 2020, most leaders are tasked with implementing new and improved strategic plans, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), financial goals, and the like in order to support and execute on the broader goals of our respective organizations. Naturally, we break down those higher-level goals and create alignment based on our work, line of business, or organizational impact to the bottom line in order to make those goals meaningful. Sounds pretty simple. But what happens when there is no alignment?

What happens when for example, you work in a non-revenue generating department such as Human Resources or Learning & Development, and the important work you and your teams do each and every day becomes more and more difficult to tie to a corporate goal? Or better yet, what if the organization you work for hasn’t articulated a clear vision or goals?

The long and short of it is: It doesn’t matter. Sure, it may be important to you as a business leader to gain insights and context correlating contribution to organizational performance, but there is absolutely no reason leaders can’t create their own meaningful data points, key deliverables, and strategic vision absent a larger one. 

Creating a strategy begins with understanding why the work you do matters. It starts with articulating what that work means to your employees and your customers – no one should be able to articulate that better than you. Leaders can face uncertainty when companies shift direction, offer new products, and diversify services, which can feel a bit like trying to aim for a bullseye during an earthquake. However, even amid an unclear future, leaders can begin to create even the simplest of strategies.  

While your executive team may appreciate and find value in your work, they may not be asking you about metrics in your area of non-revenue generating expertise. When we wait for an invitation to have discussions about strategy and vision, opportunity may come too late. Instead, seize the opportunity by proactively creating a vision that tells the story of your work. 

Where to Start…

1. Solicit Feedback: If you are unsure of how to articulate why your work matters, solicit feedback from others – most especially your teams. Gaining opinions from those at a front-line level will most assuredly provide you with a different perspective that you may not have considered before. Whether it’s using surveys, focus groups, or customer questionnaires, the how you do it is less important than doing it. 

2. Make Connections Only You Can See: Leverage your unique perspective on the organization, your talent, the industry, and the market. Whether you’ve been in an industry for 5 years or 25 years, your experiences – your challenges, successes, and failures – position you to have a viewpoint unlike anyone else. Thinking about the ways your work furthers the organization’s market position, creates more competitive advantage, or capitalizes on its strengths aids in creating the foundation of your strategy.

3. Measure What Matters: Even within the same industry or field, what is meaningful to one person may not be meaningful to another. There is no one size fits all box, and in fact, experimenting with new data points can be an extremely rewarding experience. If you are unaware of how other departments measure successful performance, gaining understanding from peers may be a place to start. Remember, even if a metric experiment fails, you learn from it and go back to where you started: why your work matters. There is always another way to find meaningful data; if access is an issue, partner with groups like IT and Finance who can get you what you need. Often, once you bring people in and share what it is you are trying to achieve, they are excited to be a part of it. You may even inspire others to do the same.

4. Tell Your Story: The final, critical phase, is creating a dashboard that explains the metrics in a way that tells a compelling story. You may have access to dashboards and analytics today that sufficiently capture your team’s contribution, but if you don’t, I encourage you to create your own. The end result may look very different than what your organization is accustomed to, but it may just be the thing that sets you and your work apart. Forget about the eye charts and graphs we often see in a presentation – creatively tell your story with different visual aids.

The path to your own strategic vision may be filled with challenges or it may come very easily. In fact, you may find the most difficult part is simply beginning the process. It’s important to remember that even if you start small, you are starting. Amid the uncertainty and chaos, you can find your strategy and innovation as well as new discoveries about yourself and your work. No one will be a better advocate for the work you do than you.

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