Strategy – Your Plan of Action

strategy-791197_1920Strategy has been a major topic for me over the past few weeks. I am working to finalize my company’s midyear strategy update and also facilitated a career strategy session for a group of military spouses. Working on both projects at once helped me to look at strategy from different perspectives.

I look at strategy as the plan of action that gets me from where I am now to my ultimate goal(s). It is a fluid process that can – and will – change on a regular basis, but a well laid out plan helps to keep me prepared for when those changes happen.

My process has come together through years of practice – with trial and error helping to make refinements. Before getting started, it is important that you understand where you want to go – your goal. Without knowing this, developing a strategy is not the best use of your time.

The Process:

  • To get started in developing a strategy, I like to know as much information as possible. This means doing a lot of research and asking a lot of questions. Below are examples of the types of questions I ask myself.
    • Is what I want to do feasible? This is an important question because if the circumstances will not allow you to find success, it is best to know early and move on.
    • Understand the why of the goal. What is the background of the project? Why is this the specific goal? What is the purpose?
    • What are the specific items I need to research?
    • What are the hurdles that I will likely face?
    • What are the resources I will need?
    • Who are the people I should speak to in order to learn more or receive help?
    • What are others doing?
    • What are the built-in milestones?
  • Once I have completed the initial research, I revisit the question of whether the goal is feasible.
  • After moving on from the research phase, I create my checklist of action items. This also includes adding in the built-in milestones. I try to make this as detailed as possible to prevent missing a step. For me, multiple steps also helps with motivation as checking items off a list keeps pushing me forward.
  • With my checklist in hand, I begin putting due dates in that keep me on target. Without deadlines, it is harder to prioritize all of the projects on my plate. It is also the motivation to do a little extra work each day.
  • Another important aspect of the timeline is making sure that I do not get stuck in the “now” mentality. This means avoiding the feeling of having to do everything at once. I try to separate items into three categories:
    • Things that have to be done immediately (today, tomorrow, this week)
    • What needs to be done once the initial elements are completed
    • The last items to be completed
  • Throughout the creation and implementation process, I prepare myself to be flexible and adapt as things change. A single change will affect the entire plan, but having the plan is what helps me review, revise and then move forward.

Once I put all of the elements together, I like to review and game out the entire scenario. That helps me to tweak things, research anything new that has come up, and fully understand what needs to be done. Then it is time to get to work!

What are elements of the strategy process that help you put together your plan? Please list them in a comment below.

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The Business Side of Volunteering

volunteer-1326758_1280I recently spoke on a panel regarding my career and how living overseas has impacted my options. During my preparation, and referenced in my speech, I thought about how volunteering is a big aspect of my life. The idea of giving back is a core value of mine that was instilled in me from a young age by my parents and was further solidified as a lifelong obligation once I became a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. While giving to others and the community is an important aspect of life, personal benefits can and should be taken away from those experiences. Following the panel discussion, I spoke with several individuals about leveraging that volunteer experience to specifically add value to one’s career.

There are tangible benefits that come with volunteering. I have written about this idea before, but now I want to get into greater detail. Below is a breakdown of the business/career related benefits I have witnessed and/or received through volunteering:

  • Interpersonal skills: With each new organization and event, volunteering exposes you to a variety of people along all measures of diversity. Being able to effectively communication and build relationships in this capacity is excellent practice for speaking to customers and coworkers.
  • Networking: Along with interpersonal skills, the same people you come into contact with offer a great opportunity to share what you do and learn about them. These are connections that you would not have otherwise made and likely vary from your current network.
  • Time management: Adding time commitments to your schedule forces you to review how you spend that time. This is great practice for when work becomes more hectic due to increased responsibilities. Managing your time effectively requires practice.
  • Leadership: This is one of the best potential benefits from volunteering. Overall, I think leading a volunteer group can often times be more difficult than a work group because many of the same incentives for individuals to follow through are not there; such as not receiving a paycheck.
    • Management: Effectively managing and organizing is a great takeaway and helpful because it is often done with a limited budget.
    • Motivation: With no pay, new ways to motivate people must be found. Positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way, but the small things like recognizing others and creating small wins can help keep the ball rolling.
    • Delegation: Being able to delegate and follow-up with people on different projects or aspects of projects is great practice for the workplace. It is about finding the balance between allowing someone the freedom to own their work and not letting deadlines fall by the wayside.
  • Recruitment: Bringing in new people is an important aspect of volunteering, especially when looking for leaders. Seeking out the right people with the right skills at the right time is an important aspect of both the work world and for volunteers.
  • Business Development: Whenever someone has had to do fundraising as a volunteer, it is quite similar to conducting business development for a company. You have to try to find individuals and companies with a connection and lead them down a path towards “making a sale.” There are clear differences in the two ideas, but the strategy behind them is quite similar.
  • Problem solving: When volunteering, problem solving is often one of the most important skills to have across all levels of involvement because the solutions usually require a high level of creativity.

These are real benefits that can be taken away from volunteering. Taking on a leadership role only increases the opportunities. Using one’s skills when volunteering is a great way to give back and learn something new along the way.

Please share a time where you were able to use volunteer experience to benefit your career in a comment below.

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The Idea Process: Steps to Help Creativity

be-creativeOne of my most recent projects has been to come up with a potential business strategy action plan for 2017. I was challenged to come up with new ideas and potential avenues to pursue this year with a focus on major initiatives. The idea was to think of anything and everything that could be implemented to grow the business. I jumped in and was pretty happy with the listing that I was able to compile. Once it was done, I tried to think about my process and if there was any way to become more efficient. Below is a breakdown of my process:

  1. Idea Waterfall: This is where I generally start. I don’t have a plan, I just start thinking of ideas and writing them down. There is no method, just madness. I think of all kinds of outlandish ideas across all areas of the business. The motto during this phase is why not? It doesn’t matter if the idea doesn’t necessarily fit within the context of this specific strategy session because those ideas can always be used later. Plus, those ideas may spark something from someone else on the team. It is just important to get all the ideas down.
  2. Focus: Once all of the ideas are written down, I go back to the beginning and look specifically at the short-term goals of the company. The idea here is to start setting parameters.
  3. Deep Dive: Once the short-term goals have been defined, go back and start thinking of more focused ideas that fit within that basic framework.
  4. Long Game: Next, I start looking through a long-term lens. It is important to make sure short-term gains don’t come at the expense of the company’s future. This means separating out short-term actions that likely create long-term problems. It also includes listing ideas that would take a long time to come to fruition.
  5. Talk it out: I like to walk around and present my ideas back to myself. In doing so, I am able to see the holes that need to be filled, any potential flaws and become better at conveying the idea.
  6. Organize: With everything listed out, it is time to start organizing everything into a format that is easy to convey to others.
  7. Feedback: Present your ideas and solicit feedback. Make sure everything is recorded and review it later to add to the list, refine ideas, remove any potential issues and begin creating a final draft.

All of this comes down to thinking about big ideas and I believe that often comes from the smallest of beginnings. I am fascinated with the creative process and it excites me when I am challenged to deliver. I believe creativity and problem solving are some of my greatest strengths, so I enjoy the opportunities when I get to put them into practice.

What are ways you approach having to come up with new ideas? Please share in a comment below.

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Motivation

blue-1845901_1920Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level.  It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.

  • Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
  • Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
  • Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.

Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.

Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.

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Tenacity

stairs-918735_1920There is often a narrow range in which success can be achieved. One element I have found that helps to get into that bandwidth is tenacity. Tenacity is, for me, one of the most important qualities when it comes to getting a job done. In the context of business, tenacity is about being creative and finding unique paths to solutions and success; all while maintaining professional ethics. I have always felt tenacity was one of my strong attributes, and it regularly pays off in my work. When I started to think about it, there are several aspects of tenacity I feel encompass putting the idea into practice.

  • Understanding Tenacity: Tenacity is about using creativity to find new ways to get the job done or achieve your goal, no matter the obstacles that have been put in front of you; all while upholding the truest ideals of professionalism. This is where it is important to understand the difference between tenacity being persistent. Seth Godin has a great blog about the difference with persistence meaning doing the same thing over and over.
  • Prepare Yourself: In order for me to be tenacious within the world of business development, it means being organized. I am constantly doing research and reaching out to people across multiple industries to gather the data I need. To accomplish this, I have a system that works for me – an Excel file that tracks who I have contacted and when, a Word document that catalogues phone call notes, and digital calendar alerts to remind me to follow-up with those who I haven’t heard back from. Even if one element falls short, a review of the others shows where I have missed something.
  • Thinking It Through: Being tenacious and not persistent, as I stated above, means doing things differently. So it is important to think about how you would want something to happen. As an example, I will always send a follow-up email because when I receive a personalized email that basically says I am trying you for the second time because you haven’t responded to my first attempt, it makes me feel like I have let someone down or did not take the time to follow-up. This one practice often results in a greater response than the original message. That really makes a huge different when trying to get information from someone. Thinking it through in advance helps get to the end result.

Being tenacious is an art form that requires skills on multiple levels. The most important part is the mindset that success is a matter of time and effort, and not letting longer periods of failure deter you from remaining motivated.

My challenge is for you to think about the last item you let go at work and spend a few minutes developing ideas that could move it forward in a successful direction. Please let me know if you were able to turn it around!

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Finding the Right Job After Graduate School

tie-690084_1280As soon as I began the UNR MBA Program in 2014, I always had an eye towards what I wanted to get out of my studies and my first job following graduation. There was a very different feeling looking at a new job knowing that I would have a master’s degree than when I was completing my studies as an undergraduate. There are several key elements that I felt I needed to emphasize. The first is that I had over eight years of business and organizational development experience, and the second was that I was not looking for an entry-level position. Because of my experience, I also felt that it gave me a good footing for negotiating. Below are three things I think soon-to-be graduates should consider when looking for post-graduate school employment.

  • Value: What value do you bring to the table? How are you going to improve the organization? What value in compensation do you expect in return? What long-term compensation items are most important to you, and is there potential for compensation growth? I feel these are important questions to have answered when considering a position. While compensation discussions should wait until an offer is made, the research on industry norms should be done early. Most importantly, you should know your strengths and what they could mean for a potential employer.
  • Future: What are the possibilities for growth within the organization? Will you be forced to move to another company to reach a higher position? Is there someone in the company who will help guide you in career planning? What is the culture related to growing people internally, as opposed to hiring from the outside? In looking at a new position, it is important to also look where it could lead down the line. Especially following graduate school, a career focus is more important than just getting another job.
  • Structure: What is the structure of the organization? What is the culture? Do both fit in with how you best operate? If not, do you feel the company culture will help you improve your skills and abilities? Do you feel you will be productive and find success within their framework? Is there potential for you to have your own working style within that company? How you work is extremely important and being able to maximize your productivity through focusing on your strengths is crucial. I have found it better to work for a company with a matching culture and structure that can allow you to shine than picking a better job on paper in a company where you do not fit in well.

There are several key facets when looking for a job after completing a graduate program. This period has far greater career implications with the job you take, more than almost ever before. Everyone should make sure a new position sets them on a path towards future growth and successful advancement of their skills, compensation and goals. I believe it is better to sometimes wait for the right opportunity than settling for the wrong one.

What do you believe is the most important aspect of a job after receiving a graduate degree? Please post you thoughts in a comment below.

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Putting It All Together

jigsaw-puzzle-1315356_1920Having just graduated from my MBA program, I have done a lot of reflecting about what I took from the program and how much of it I will be able to apply to my new job. A few of my classmates held a presentation on a joint independent study project that really helped to showcase the knowledge and skills we gained. All three work for the same company and took on a different area of operations to review and provide recommended changes to improve operations. Throughout the presentation I thought to myself the methods and ideas they used were taken straight out of the material covered in the classroom. It could not have been a better timed experience.

After thinking about the presentation, there are a few things that came to mind about important takeaways from my MBA program. This list is not everything I took away, but the larger concepts that I feel allow for the other important elements and ideas to come together.

  • Strategy: Strategy and its various elements have been a major subject of focus for me over the last ten years, but the level of detail that was covered in one of my courses really help to get into the fine details of not only creating a strategic plan and  operating plan, but the “why” and importance of each as well. The importance of what I learned is in taking the highest level vision and creating the architecture infrastructure that will make it happen.
  • Business Process: Another major idea that was covered is looking at the actual design of how the various processes of a business are put together. By mapping out how things are being done and what needs to happen at each decision point, it is much easier to identify where improvements can be made.
  • Change: This topic is one of, if not, the most important of my entire MBA program. While all of the other information is highly important, being a successful change agent can make or break an attempt to introduce positive improvements in an organization. The books we read and discussions in class really hit home the point of how to approach and initiate change in both a personal and professional landscape.

By chance, these three topics were the main focus of each of my final three courses. This helped to bring everything in the program together for me at the perfect time. Ultimately, the best thing I took away from my MBA program was acquiring available tools and understanding the right questions to ask to find a path towards success. I found the time spent to be extremely valuable and am actively working to implement as much as possible into my professional career.

Check out the website for my new company, EnBio Industries.

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