The Big Picture

Strategic Skills for Managers

Managers are often told to see the big picture; maintain a big picture view; see the big picture first; operate from the big picture. But what exactly does that mean?

6 Steps to Work within The Big Picture

If you struggle with this concept (I find that it is rarely explained), here are six steps you can take to operate within the big picture. The big picture is your ability to understand the wider context of the decisions that you make as a manager and leader within your organisation.

1. Know and Understand your Organisation’s Strategy.

Are you familiar with your organisation’s strategic plan?

◊ We have one?
◊ It is around here somewhere.
◊ I think I know where to find it on our intranet. Let me look…..
◊ I have one on my desk – let me explain it to you.

It is important that you understand where your organisation intends to head, and the 6 or so key areas of focus for the current year. Grab a copy of the strategy, spend some time assimilating it and keep it handy on your desk. This way, you can pick it up at any time and talk about it with your team.

If your organisation does not have a strategic plan, book a meeting with your MD or CEO and discuss the direction and areas of focus with them. Be fully informed.

2. Know and Understand your Organisation’s Values.

Are you familiar with your organisation’s values?

◊ We have values?
◊ Aren’t they just for HR?
◊ We have them, but no-one takes any notice of them. They are just a piece of paper.
◊ I have them on my desk – let me explain them to you and what they mean to me and my team.

Organisational Values are established to help focus people in the behaviours that help achieve the Vision and Strategy, and create an organisational culture compatible with the goals and direction.

Therefore they have a large impact on you and on your team. It is important to understand what each value means to you and your team – it will be slightly different for each part of the organisation. For example, if one of the values is “Execute for Results” – your team will benefit if together you discuss how this value manifests for them. Similarly for values like “Respect” and “Equity”.

The values have a strong linkage to the strategy. In any discussion about the values, link them through to the strategy.

3. Know and Understand your Branch, Unit or Section’s Strategy.

Generally, strategy will cascade down through the organisation. If yours is a global organisation, you will have an overarching strategic plan from your head quarters, one for your region, one for your local branch and one for your section within the local branch. It can get complex. You may be part of several divisions within one organisation. For example, I had 4 or 5 strategic plans that I had to consider when I held a position in a global company that maintained a matrix organisation. Don’t shy away from it – sure, it can be a challenge, but you are up to it, right? That is why you are in a management position.

If you are a smaller organisation, there may be 1 or 2 layers of cascaded strategic plans. Smaller still, and there might not be any cascaded ones.

◊ I heard that we had one, I think. Someone mentioned it.
◊ It is around here somewhere, maybe in this bottom drawer.
◊ I think I know where to find it on our intranet. Let me look…..
◊ I have one on my desk – let me explain it to you, and how it links into our organisation’s strategy.

Each of the cascaded strategic plans will align with the one above it, that is, there will (should be) no conflicts between them, and the cascaded plan will simply be answering the question “What does the plan mean for us? What is our strategy for meeting the goals established in the higher plan? What is it that we need to do?”

4. Create your own Operating Plan.

Your own Operating Plan will be the basis for you making decisions and ensuring performance and direction for the year ahead. Of course, your operating plan will be aligned with the different levels of Strategic Plans and the organisation’s Values.

◊ A plan? Com’on, all we do around here is fight fires. There is no time to plan.
◊ I did one with my team. I can’t recall what is in it. Maybe it is here in the bottom drawer with the Strategic Plan.
◊ I think I know where to find it on our intranet. Let me look…..
◊ I have one on my desk – we use it daily, and in all of our team meetings to drive our decision making. Let me explain how it helps to fulfil our organisation’s strategy.

5. Know the key areas of your Peers’ and Customers’ Plans.

It is important, too, that you understand the key drivers that your peers are working with. For example, let us say that your organisation has two strategic goals: Growth and Cost Savings. As a result, you are in charge of purchasing and one of your goals for this year is to find a cheaper printing paper for use in all areas of the business.

However, Marketing has focused on Growth and has as its goal to produce material which is more current, up to date, glossy, fashionable and beautiful. It relys on you for the supply of its paper stock.

You can see in this small example how individual, unit based goals can very easily conflict. Managing in the big picture also means that you are aware of the plans of your peers, and also of your customers / stakeholders (internal and often external too).

◊ My peers? We rarely talk. We rarely even get together.
◊ We have a yearly retreat to discuss this, but as soon as we are back in the office, things change. And no-one lets me know.
◊ I think I know where to find them on our intranet. Let me look…..
◊ I meet regularly with my peers – both formally in meetings and over coffee or a lunch time walk. A lot of alignment of aims is achieved this way.

6. Talk constantly about the big picture with your team.

In every meeting, every performance conversation, every work discussion, link back to your operating plan and the overall strategy. Help your team to understand how they personally assist the strategy, how their work is contributing. Create a culture within your team of big picture thinking.

◊ Talk to my staff? We have a yearly retreat, but it is before the strategy comes out. I just tell them what to do and they do it. If they don’t then there is trouble.
◊ Um, ok. Maybe I should institute quarterly meetings.
◊ I think I know where to find it on our intranet. Let me look…..
◊ We do. Every member of our team has a copy of our operating goals and we discuss progress and contribution often. Periodically we get one of my peers or our customers to talk to us about their goals and how they see our team. It keeps us focused.

How did you score?

I hope you have been able to pinpoint some areas that you might refine in your own strategic management style. Although some of the choices may seem humorous, I have heard them all.

Can we help?

If you would like assistance with strategic management, give us a call.

Indra Process and Performance Consulting

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