Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Being Strategic: Three Components of a Good Strategy

QUESTION: I tend to be tactical but am now in a position in which I am being asked to be more strategic. What is the action plan for transitioning? Is being strategic a learnable skill?

“How can I be more strategic?” is a question everyone asks, but what does it mean? And what is strategy, exactly, anyway?

ie Pidot is Vice President of Strategy at Medtronic, where she works closely with the CEO and senior management team to lead the development of corporate strategy and improve the quality of strategic decision-making company-wide.

So what is a strategy, according to a seasoned executive strategist? In a style refreshingly free from business jargon, Pidot explained that “Strategy is a fancy word for coming up with a long-term plan and putting it into action.”

In addition to developing corporate strategy at the highest level with the senior executive team, Pidot also works with Medtronic’s eight business units and various regions worldwide, helping to facilitate their strategic planning process. One of her top tips for being strategic is “collaborate, collaborate, collaborate,” and her approach to strategy creation involves serving as a thought partner to executives across the company. Pidot begins by asking questions that provoke the type of deeply reflective thinking that enables a business or region to develop its own strategy. Typical questions she recommends asking when formulating a strategy are:

  • What are your customers’ unmet needs? How should your strategy address them?
  • How will your markets be different in the future than they are today?
  • What can you do to position yourself for the future?
  • What is the business case for your investments?
  • How will you measure and track performance to ensure impact?
But what if you are not leading a business but are an individual contributor who is trying to be more strategic?

Pidot recommends asking similar questions while imagining your boss as a customer “Ask yourself, what are your customer’s unmet needs, meaning what is it that your boss wants and needs,” she advised. Reflect on your job description and what you know about your boss, and how you could make their life easier. “Look for ways to better predict the kinds of things that they want you to do” she said. “By coming up with a list, you can probably anticipate those needs better. Have a bias for action and get things done. Have milestones. Check them off and follow through. Come up with a plan, and think ahead in a way that is proactive. Being strategic is about having a long-term plan, and putting it into action. It almost sounds silly to think of that as a strategy, but it really is.”

Three components of a good strategy
To anyone who is hoping to develop the skill of being strategic, Pidot recommends that any good strategy needs three characteristics: to be forward looking, aspirational, and grounded in facts.

1. Be focused on the long-term and forward-looking
Pidot advises would-be strategists that to be effective, their strategy must be forward-looking.

“To move from getting caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job and become more strategic, you need to be looking ahead.” Pidot recommends asking yourself “What is the world going to look like, five or ten years from now? How are the dynamics that I am operating in going to change over time? How can I put into place a set of actions to get me to where the world is going to be?”

2. Be aspirational, while recognizing constraints
A good strategy needs to be aspirational, while recognizing your starting point and constraints.

Pidot explains, “You need to be bold enough in your aspirations that you can get excited about it, because you are going to spend a lot of time working on your strategy, but at the same time recognize where you are today, and what constraints you might have on the potential actions that are at your disposal. It is a careful balance. You can’t get too far ahead of yourself but at the same time, you don’t want to limit yourself.”

3. Be grounded in facts
A common misconception about strategy is that it requires thinking at the ‘high level’ and not digging down into the detail. When asked by a would-be strategist “How can I get out of the detail and be more strategic?” Pidot advises, “One of the common reasons that strategies fail is that they are not grounded in facts, data and a deep understanding of your customers and business environment. One of the most important elements of strategy is moving away from ‘managing by anecdote’ and developing a much more systematic approach using facts, data and analysis.”

Take time to think
A final key to becoming more strategic is to take the time to think.

“We all have challenges and our days are jam-packed. We are running from meeting to meeting, trying to accomplish more in less time,” observes Pidot. “It feels sometimes like we don’t even have the time to get our job done, let alone have time to step back. But I can’t over-emphasize how important it is to have unstructured time with yourself or with your team, just to think. An agenda-less hour or two is critical for generating creativity and different thinking.”

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. You can hear Jo’s interview with Ellie Pidot when you join the Emerging Women Leaders series. Learn more or register at

From the Article Archive: I Just Got Laid Off

I just got laid off. I know I am supposed to network, but what are some other things to do to secure my next position?

Jo Miller answers:

Jerri Barrett, Vice President of Marketing for the Anita Borg Institute, is a walking encyclopedia of common and uncommon tips for marketing yourself during a job hunt.

Jerri says, “Remember that your job when you are unemployed is finding a job. Carry your updated clean resume with you everywhere. And mention to everyone you talk to that you are job hunting.”

Jerri used this approach to find a job through a friend in book group. “I told the whole group I was looking and gave them copies of my resume. One person went home, checked her company’s corporate job postings, found a job, and sent in my resume to both HR and the hiring manager. I had a job in less than two weeks—it’s how I moved to California.”

Seize the opportunity to reinvent and reenergize
Taking a flexible approach allowed Nehal Mehta, now Director QA at Netapp, to capitalize on a layoff as an unexpected opportunity. She immediately seized on the situation as a way to reenergize her career and move into a new area of focus. Within three weeks of leaving her previous employer, Nehal landed a consulting gig in a turnaround so fast that she had barely had time to update her resume.

Stay resilient and optimistic
Jerri Barrett recommends planning time to do something that you enjoy every day or week.

“During one period of job hunting, my boyfriend and I would make a date to walk up to our local library each Saturday. We’d browse through books, check out the houses in the neighborhood—it was like going shopping but not spending money.”

Set targets and hold yourself accountable
While we all know the importance of networking, Jerri and Nehal held themselves accountable by setting targets while job hunting.

Jerri Barrett advises those in transition, “Set a 'work' schedule and stick to it. Create goals for yourself—sending out 10 resumes a week and making 5 phone calls per day, for example. Remember it’s your job so if you get the job done feel free to go do something fun.”

Nehal Mehta described a similar level of focus. “The week after I was laid off, I had lunch and two coffee meetings every day. I made ten LinkedIn connections a day. I approached my contacts and told them what I was looking for.”

Conventional wisdom says you can’t find a job in December or over the holidays, but Nehal found that her contacts were readily available to meet for lunch or coffee during the break.

Know what the market wants
Going against the advice of some well-meaning supporters, Nehal said, “I did not spend all my energy looking for that next full-time position. I pursued something that many people may not be willing to settle for—consulting.”

Her reasoning was that approaching companies as a consultant reduces barriers to starting work rapidly, benefitting both herself and the employer.

“For every job, there were 100 other candidates just as well qualified, and you must really then negotiate much harder for the job, level, and salary. So I approached a company with an opening for a full-time position and said, 'I’ll take this on as a consulting assignment'. This allowed them to take me on right away. It was less of a commitment on their side and on mine. This got me into a new space, working with a completely new technology, and loving it!”

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. Women's Leadership Coaching, Inc. provides a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership positions in business, with individual coaching programs, seminars and webinars.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Emerging Leader Spotlight: Nicole Doebert, Marketing Strategist, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

Name: Nicole Doebert
Title: Marketing Strategist
Company: Thrivent Financial for Lutherans
Location: Appleton, Wisconsin

Favorite quotes:

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try.”

—Beverly Sills

“Don’t block the blessings.”

—Patti LaBelle

What is your leadership style?
I lead very collaboratively. Relationship building is my number-one strength. I love people, and I try to acknowledge others as people first, professionals second. I believe in inspiring trust in others by always, always, always doing what I say I will do. And I also believe in trusting others to do the same. So I do my best to lead with trust, support, and a little fun thrown in. I love to laugh!

What tools or resources have you used that have been crucial to your success?
One thing that has really helped me in my career development is using tools to help me identify my “sweet spot” or unique ability. It means that I’ve taken a hard look at what I’m great at, what I love doing, and what my organization needs. And I try to find ways to work in that place, rather than doing things outside of that. It’s not always possible, of course, but by trying to work in that sweet spot it lets me succeed and helps the company.

I also find great value in tools like the Kolbe A Index and Strengthsfinder 2.0. Knowing your strengths, your innate style, yourself, really, helps you also know how to relate to others. By knowing who you are and what you need to work well, it’s easier to then be able to know how to work in ways that support the needs of others.

What steps are you taking to improve yourself professionally?
I’m the chair of our Thrivent Women’s Leadership Network. In that role, I am amazed, delighted, honored, and humbled to work with fantastically talented women throughout our organization. Being able to connect and network with these women helps me increase my business acumen, learn through their examples and share in a support system where we all help each other be better leaders—and people.

I also continually take on stretch assignments that will let me work cross-functionally in the organization and that will let me learn new skills and lead teams. There’s always that hint of fear taking on things like that—leaping into the unknown and pushing yourself beyond what you think you might be capable of. But I’m grateful that I’ve had good opportunities and leaders willing to coach me and help me learn. Sometimes I surprise even myself!

What is the next step you plan to take to develop your leadership skills?
I would like to find a mentor. I am blessed to have many informal mentors who help me when I have questions or need coaching and support. But I think creating a more formal mentorship with someone could help me advance to the next stage of leadership. I think having someone with a more external perspective could be a real benefit.

What are some top tips for other women who want to be recognized as a high-potential emerging leader?
Network, network, network. Make connections and build relationships with people inside your organization and within your community. Take leadership roles on divisional projects, organizational committees, or non-profit boards. Take advantage of opportunities to present your work to leadership teams
and put your name on any presentations of results for your projects. Be a resource for those looking to learn more about what you’re doing—and give them a reason to want to talk to you! You need to deliver results to be recognized as an emerging leader.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series starts February 14th.

Over the course of this six-part webinar series, nine senior-level women leaders will reveal their top tips on how to grow and develop as a leader while building a thriving and satisfying career.

The first webinar in the series, 'Being Strategic' is on Tuesday, February 14th with guest speaker Ellie Pidot, Medtronic's VP of Strategy. Ellie has a great talent for taking complex business concepts and breaking them down into simple steps. She will de-mystify what it means to be strategic and share the three components that every good strategy must have. She will address ways to communicate your strategy effectively to others and how to translate a strategy into action that delivers results.

Other topics in the series include:
  • Sponsors: Advocates for Your Advancement , 4/24

  • Building a Career Around Your Values and Strengths, 6/12

  • Alternate Career Paths: Up is Not the Only Way Forward , 8/23

  • Work-Life Integration, 10/30

  • Working with Virtual and Global Teams, 11/27

Guest speakers include:

  • Amanda Martinez, VP Manufacturing Operations - US Grocery at Safeway

  • Jennifer Pope, VP, Member Interactions, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

  • Cindy Kent, Vice President & General Manager, Gastro/Urology Therapies at Medtronic

  • … and six other outstanding women leaders from Medtronic, Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, eBay, Moss Adams, and JDSU.