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 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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AAR – After Action Report

AARI recently read a case study about Army General Rebecca Halstead, who became accustomed to writing a short after action report following almost everything that happened throughout her day. This idea really got me thinking about how this process could help me account for and improve my own work. While I believe that I reflect heavily on my responsibilities, I don’t take the next step and truly analyze and record what happened efficiently; what went well, what didn’t work and what I learned. So, I thought I would use a blog post to help hone in on an idea for my own After Action Report (AAR). Below are the 5 steps I have developed for my own AAR.

  1. Initial Objectives: Start by listing the initial objectives of the project as early as possible. Discuss these items with all of the relevant stakeholders and compile a comprehensive list. Make this a living document that is updated throughout the process to keep it accurate. However, an original draft should be kept for later comparison.
  2. Final Objectives: Save a final draft of the objectives and analyze what items changed, or were added, and why.
  3. Failures: What did not go as planned and why? Are those elements likely to repeat?
  4. Success: What went well and why? Are those items likely to repeat in the future?
  5. Knowledge Gained: What was learned from the process? What are elements that should be carried into the next project? What should be alleviated? (Note: All alleviated processes should be recorded and saved.)

Thinking about implementing this process immediately makes me stop and think – how am I going to make this relevant over the long-term? Meaning, how will I avoid this being started and then slowly forgotten. In order to keep this as a “front-burner” item, I will add this to my project listing Excel file that I created to track all of my work. My original goal was to be able to recall what I did last for someone who I haven’t spoken to in some time, but this is a logical addition that provides real value. I can add in those 5 steps and update them as work progresses. Additionally, I will create a new document to compile all the information I have learned and processes that have not worked; this will help develop best practices. Now, it is just a matter of implementation.

Do you have your own after action process? If so, please share it in a comment below.

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Family, Faith and Work: Prioritizing the Work/Life Balance

balanceThis is going to be a particularly busy week for me. I have three summer courses running simultaneously, several work projects are coming together at once, my fiancé is graduating from her residency program, one of my best friends is getting married and I am traveling 4 out of 8 days. However, this is what I live for. Nothing makes me happier than being busy and having so many wonderful things going on at the same time. The only way I am able to find a perfect balance is through a well-developed set of priorities.

Over the course of my life, I have been taught, and learned on my own, what elements are most important. Some people share these same items, and in the same order, but there are also many who do not. In ranked order, from most important, I value family, faith and work. That has come to mean some very specific things as I have continued through my career. I have also learned it is much easier to say this than implement it.

Family, as well as friends, is what drive me to succeed more than anything else. While I want to help as many people as possible, the motivation to do so is based upon the energy generated through my interactions with those who I love. For the most part, it is not about giving anything up to put family first, but about making shifts to what will allow for both to happen. The only instances when one is above another is when opportunities comes along where only one event can be put in one slot of time. That is the test of the prioritization. And, it should be noted that it is not about what happens when as the outcome, but that first moment when you realize there is an issue.

Faith comes next, but also includes my personal values. This, too, is what drives me to do what I do and gives me strength to push on and find success. I am extremely proud of the moments when I made the tough choice to stand up for something I believe in, not compromising my values, and put my faith first, however, there have also been lessons learned when that was not the case. My goal is always to use those moments where I fell short as a learning experiences as it is a feeling I do not wish to have again.

Finally, there is work, which is one of the most time intensive and important elements of my life. The opportunities I have had in my career have only served to help me define my prioritizes, learn and develop as an individual, and create value that impacts my personal life. My current position with the NSBDC is an excellent example of being able to develop great passion for what I am doing. Doing this only pushes me closer to my first two prioritizes.

There are some many wonderful things going on in life and I can barely stop to think about it all at the same time. This next week is going to be very exciting and I can’t wait to learn from what transpires, continue to push to become the best version of myself and help as many people as possible along the way.

Think about your own priorities and how you make decisions. Then, think about the ones that went well and those that didn’t. Finally, think about what you learned and how to push yourself to be the best version of yourself.

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