This blog post has been written as support for homework for participants from my training on “Creating Influence”.
…but the exercise described below is an excellent approach to defining strategic action for any mission you may undertake.
First, let’s describe “strategic action”
How is strategic action different to normal action? It considers one’s current position in close relationship to the mission. In this way, strategic action is focussed on high level priority-driven steps that are more likely to get us to where we want to be.
Example: Suppose I want to complete an IronMan race. I might be inclined to imagine that swim-training is the best action to undertake. But if I first do a good strategic positioning exercise, I might realise that my priority is in fact to first develop my business offer in order to earn more more so that I can liberate more time for training. If I don’t do this, I will have to a) squeeze in training in an already busy schedule and b) end up paying divorce costs due to marital negligence 🙂
Ready to think strategic??
STEP 1: Start by defining your mission
There is no sense in doing a positioning exercise if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve.
Example: If I ask you if I am strong, depending on what objective you imagine me working on, you may come up with completely different answers…
When defining your mission, be sure to use quality goals. Read my other blog post on PERSONAL goal-setting for some starter ideas..
STEP 2: …then assess your current position
One of my favourite tools for doing this remains the SWOT analysis. A good SWOT will give you ideas on recurring themes for improvement. Note: I said a GOOD SWOT !
- Read here for some of my favourite SWOT questions
- …and here for some tips on how to be complete in your general approach to SWOT
Another tool I really like regarding personal influence is the network influence-grid proposed by Jo Owen in his book “How to Influence“. He suggests that for all the people in your network, you need to assess them in terms of whether or not you have a good relationship with them and whether or not they have power (to help you in your mission). A network influence-grid therefore has 4 quadrants…
When the people you know are mapped out in their relevant quadrants, you will better focus on people who are realy useful (top-right) or think about how to better leverage the existing relationships you have to get what you need.
STEP 3: Now, look for priority areas for action
I find that if I have done a good job of assessing my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, when I look at the results there are recurring and linking themes. These are the things to work on. Don’t worry about action yet, just look at which things seem to come back and back.
For example, in my last SWOT exercise I saw that:
- My network was very complete
- …but that I wasn’t using it well enough
- I have great references for training work
- …but never ask for referrals
- There was an opportunity to better develop my own client base
An obvious priority strategic action: Leverage own network.
STEP 4: When your priorities are clear, plan baby steps
I am finally reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen right now. One of my clients said it was a great book, but I thought: What else could there be to learn about priority management? In the first 10 pages I had my answer:
Turn unmanageable TO-DO lists into “next concrete action” (baby-steps) lists.
In the scope of our exercise, this means asking 2 questions for each of the priority strategic actions noted previously:
- What would be an ACCEPTABLE outcome?
- What is the NEXT CONCRETE ACTION you need to take?
If you’ve followed the 4 steps ahead, you should have some good ideas to get moving with.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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10 simple ideas to help you make the most out of a SWOT exercise. This blog post goes hand-in-hand with my other blog-post that contains my favourite SWOT questions.
Doing a good SWOT is about more than just asking the questions… (a new post on THAT topic will follow soon). Follow these 10 tips to do it well.
Take the time to do it
Most people don’t. Do. It’s as simple as that! SWOT is a great tool for assessing your own position. Once you have outlined your objective/mission, answer each of the SWOT questions in turn. Give your spontaneous answers first. When you have done that ask each question again, really looking at each important word in your objective or mission statement.
Do it with other people
In training, I ask participants to do a SWOT exercise together – it’s amazing to see the different points of view on even the most simple questions.
Ask for feedback
If you want to know your own strengths and weaknesses, ask for feedback from people around you. (Which reminds me, one of my clients has asked me to complete a 360° for her….)
Read industry literature, go to conferences, training etc..
“S”+”W” are about your internal strengths and weaknesses. “O”+”T” are about the outside world. If you want look for ideas about what is going on around you, industry literature, conferences and training events are great ways to see what are the new trends.
Share best practices
And if you share your own best practices, you’ll be helping other people. We live in sharing culture and what goes around comes around!
Social networking: Linkedin, twitter, yammer, Facebook, etc…
I’m a big fan of using tools like these to find out what other are thinking. If you join groups on linkedin and create lists on twitter you can easily see what others are working on, what is new and what people see as opportunities and threats.
Be honest with yourself …and others
There is no point over-estimating your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest. This idea goes hand-in-hand with the idea that you should take good measurements to have a clear idea of what is good and bad. And when people ask you for feedback, be honest yourself!
Brainstorm for opportunities, using tools like 6 thinking hats
Brainstorming is a managed process of using creative thinking techniques to find new ideas and solutions for a specific topic, objective or problem. By doing effective brainstorming, you can identify new ways to tackle opportunities, but maybe even see opportunities that you didn’t see before. Follow training with me on how to develop and facilitate a brainstorming session or read a nice book like “6 thinking hats” by @Edward_deBono for ideas on how to “think differently” when doing your SWOT.
Find good strategists who can help you
When you have your answers to the SWOT questions, the trick is to identify the links between elements in order to underline strategic priorities: How can this strength by used to face a threat or opportunity? What are the links between different elements of the SWOT? What can we do to ignore, manage or build on a weakness? etc etc… Some people are born for this kind of strategic thinking and if you know people like this, use them!
Complement with other tools like PEST, Jo Owen’s Influence Grid (How to Influence), Johari Window…
SWOT is not the only tool for assessing your position – there are hundreds. Here are a few I tools I like:
- Click here for a full explanation of PEST
- Read Jo Owen’s “How to Influence” to find out how to use the Influence Grid to assess your network
- Use the Johari Window exercise with other people to think about your own qualities
If you have comments of ideas to share, please post them below.
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Thanks for reading!