by Doreen Yarnold

Strategy and you, the manager

It is argued by the great and the good in the field of strategy that today’s highly competitive, globalised economies demand significant input from operational managers who have the requisite experience to create the connection between the company, its markets, its customers and its competitors. So, in a nutshell, strategy is absolutely 100 per cent about you!

Strategic thinking and effective execution are two of the most important skills a manager can possess in today’s rapidly changing world. It cannot be acceptable for any business to employ managers who know where they want to get their team or department, but have little or no clue as to what is required to get there. Consider the following question...


If you don’t have clarity around what you need to do to achieve your contribution to the overall high level business objectives, how effective can you ever hope to be in your role, and more importantly what value are you really adding to your business, your people and yourself?

Knowing where you want to go – goal setting – is an essential life skill (for more, see the topic on Goal Setting) and part and parcel of being a good manager. In other words, you first need to know where you are going – in this case, where your organisation wants you to go – if you are to stand a good chance of getting there. Starting with the end in mind is therefore the essence of using strategic principles in your role as manager.

  1. List your own (and your team’s) objectives, in other words, the results that you and your team are measured against. Then try to determine how these link to the higher level business objectives of your organisation (if you know them). If you don’t know them, try to find out what they are and then do the exercise.
  2. If you don’t know what your own and the company’s objectives are, what would this suggest to you about communication within your organisation? How can you constructively influence an improvement in the future?
  3. Now break your objectives down into short-, medium- and long-term aims. How does prioritising in this way aid your thinking about implementation?

If, as a manager, you have no involvement in strategy, this is akin to saying that you have no involvement in what your business is trying to achieve.

Become aware of and use strategic principles

When thinking in terms of objectives and strategy becomes habitual, you will benefit from this focused attitude in many ways.

  • You will understand more clearly where you want your part of the organisation to be in the future (for example, in one, two or three years), what you want it to achieve, and how it aligns to the key objectives of the organisation.
  • Your plans will be broken down into short-, medium- and long-term perspectives.
  • You will have involved your people from the beginning, consulting and involving them at all key points.
  • You will have ensured that your team have bought into short-, medium-, and long-term objectives and that their own objectives are aligned to those of both your department and the overall organisation.
  • You will know that every activity you and your team are involved in is 100 per cent aligned to the overall business objectives and vision.
  • Your department will stand out as a high performing part of the organisation.
  • Your heightened focus will build confidence, self-worth and high self-esteem for your team.

Applying strategic principles in your role

As an example, assume you are a section manager in a large corporation, managing a team of 20 people who operate in two teams of ten, each headed up by a team leader. Your current objectives are all related to your current monthly and quarterly target objectives. Your boss has never mentioned ‘strategy’ in any context, so you’ve always believed strategy was something the directors dealt with, and nothing to do with you – until today, when you’re using this resource to read up on strategy.

First, complete the three sections of the exercise above, and then resolve in future to focus your own and your teams’ efforts and activities on delivering those things that contribute to the overall vision and business objectives.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Peter F Drucker

Lots of ‘stuff’ that happens in organisation is peripheral and sometimes irrelevant to achieving the ‘bigger picture’ objectives. This means that it’s surplus to requirements!

By shifting your focus so that you only do what you know will deliver the overall business objectives, you will be putting yourself above the level at which the majority of managers are currently operating. You will be adding immense value to your business, and your team will develop and grow with you as you now concentrate only on that which delivers and supports the vision and high level objectives.

A pitfall - making assumptions

Unfortunately, managers all too often launch into a plan without first explicitly thinking about strategy. Instead, they unconsciously use an implicit and assumed strategy and then plan around that.

You can’t plan without a strategy, but often people use a ‘default’ strategy and are unaware that they are doing so. The default strategy comes from unconscious assumptions about how things ‘should’ be done within the prevailing culture.

When this happens, there is little connection between the operational ‘stuff’ that managers do and the bigger organisational vision. They have lost the ‘golden thread’ that links vision to strategy to plan and then to activity. With no clear line of sight between activity and vision, people get de-motivated or do things for the wrong reasons. It is just not joined up, and you get the ‘people going in many directions’ problem, because they are each using different ‘default’ strategies, and are oblivious to the fact that this is what is going on.

What should I ask my boss?

If it is evident that your boss has a strategic plan for the organisation (department, section...), then it is probable that you will already be involved in and consulted about how you and your team contribute to it, and what part you play in its execution. If this is happening, it’s likely that you will also have a fair understanding of strategy and how it applies in your part of the organisation.

Conversely, it is not uncommon for senior managers and sometimes directors to have an unclear perspective on where they want the organisation to be and how they intend to get there. Often, they have some inkling of the former, but will be oblivious to the latter, somehow believing that middle managers have worked it out for themselves and will be getting on with it.

Consequently, the organisation fumbles along, everyone working hard, but often not towards the same thing, let alone the right thing. If this sounds like your organisation, plan how you might broach this with your boss. It is likely that if you have access to this resource, so will they. A constructive approach might be to say that you found the section on strategy interesting and would like to work through some of the exercises. Ask if you can see information on the organisation’s vision, mission, purpose, values and high level business objectives to see how what you do relates to them. He may already have this information, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t. If he agrees to get the information, suggest that perhaps you work on it together, to review current objectives, refine them as appropriate and gain buy-in from the team. Remember, if you don’t ask, he can’t say yes!

How does strategy involve my people?

This is a really important question. If you manage and lead people, you can only achieve your business objectives through them. Gaining buy-in to what you are trying to achieve is key. How you communicate with your team, and how frequently, are also very important. If you keep in mind that strategy is about moving from where you are now to where you want/need to be, it is immediately evident that strategy is 100 per cent about you and your team.

Just as your departmental objectives need to support the vision and higher level objectives, so your team’s objectives need to reflect departmental objectives. Anything they are doing or are involved in that doesn’t support this is distracting and a waste of valuable resources; it may well be keeping them busy, but it is unlikely to deliver what you need!


In a major survey and study carried out by Franklin Covey et al, it was found that only about 50 per cent of a typical organisation’s time and resources were deployed on key organisational objectives.

  1. What competencies and capabilities do my people have that really support the achievement of departmental objectives?
  2. What deficiency in competencies and capabilities is hindering the achievement of departmental objectives?
  3. How will I build on their strengths and overcome the deficiencies?