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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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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Adventures in Networking

world-1264062_1920As a young professional, I believe networking is one of the most important aspects of looking towards the future regarding my career. I will be graduating in about  a month, so relationships and connections are ever-present on my mind. The important idea to remember is that networking is a two-way street, and giving more will often get you more in return. The topic of networking has come up several times for me in the last few weeks, including facilitating a discussion on the topic for a group of undergraduates, so I decided to put my thoughts down here to help prepare.

  • Networking: To me, networking is about sharing information, contacts and ideas with people you are connected with based on past experiences, affiliations and other individuals.
  • LinkedIn: This is an amazing tool for networking, especially when looking for a job. It is used by so many that I feel it has become your online resume; your profile often comes up as a top hit when Googling an individual. Keeping it updated can be extremely important because you never know who is looking at it. LinkedIn can be used to find connections you would have never known about, as it shows all the links and connections for you; based on the information you provide, your affiliations, groups you join and people/organizations you are connected. There are many resources on how to put together a great LinkedIn profile, so I will not get into that here. I suggest that you add everyone you are connected with as you never know how they may be able to offer you in the future. This includes friends, family, coworkers, clients, etc. However, I would only add people you know and only add those you feel appropriate.
  • Volunteering: I feel volunteering is one of the most rewarding personal experiences and a great way to give back to the community. Volunteering can be an excellent networking tool because you will likely be connected to others who have the same general outlook on life regarding giving back. By putting yourself out there and meeting others who are volunteering, you open up an entire new network of people. As you volunteer more and more, and move up into being on a board, this network just continues to grow.
  • Professional groups: Professional groups are another great way to meet people and expand your network. I recommend only joining groups you have an interest in and not waste your time on something because it is the thing to do.
  • Business Cards: Business cards are a simple way to provide all of your relevant contact information in once place. Even if you don’t have business cards for work, you can still make personal business cards for almost no cost. I feel that people should wait to be asked for a business card before giving them out. Some may disagree, but I feel it can come off as pushy when people just sling out their business cards.
  • Staying connected: Once you have made a contact, make sure that you keep up with them. Depending on the circumstances, some individuals don’t need much in terms of relationship management. I have reached out to people who I haven’t spoken to for years because of the way the relationship was built. However, not all relationships are like that and I follow-up much more regularly with many in my network.
  • Giving and Getting: Now when it comes to actually using your network, I feel there are best practices to consider. I have found that giving to your network is a great way to build credibility; not asking for a favor for yourself, but someone else. That is most of what I have done over the past few years. When it actually comes time to ask for a favor from someone in your network, be honest and upfront.

I have been very fortunate with how large my network is, but it has only developed through the work I have put in to make sure it continues to grow.

If you would like to introduce yourself and find out ways we can network, contact me here.

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Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold different perspective, it does not mean they won’t understand and consider change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectation from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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