Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ask an Executive: What is Strategy? With Ellie Pidot of Medtronic

By Jo Miller, CEO, Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc.

Do you have what it takes to be a good leader? You may be a good tactician, but what if you were asked to move into a position that required you to be more strategic? Could you make the transition from being reactive to thinking and acting strategically? 

Ellie Pidot knows more about strategy than most of us will forget! In her position as vice president of strategy at Medtronic, Pidot works closely with the CEO and senior management team to lead the development of corporate strategy and improve the quality of strategic decision-making companywide.

So what is a seasoned executive strategist's definition of strategy? Pidot explains, “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 Pidot’s top tips for being a better strategist is to “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,” she says. “Meaning, what is it that your boss wants and needs? Reflect on your job description and what you know about your boss, and how you could make his or her life easier.”

Pidot also stresses the importance of need prediction. Or, as she explains it, “Look for ways to better predict the kinds of things that they want you to do. By coming up with a list, you can probably anticipate those needs better.”

Planning is also high on Pidot’s list of recommendations: “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,” she says.

A final key to becoming a better strategist, according to Pidot, 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,” Pidot stresses. “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 overemphasize 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.”

As you can see, there is more to a good leadership strategy than meets the eye. But with Pidot’s helpful “checklist,” strategizing your way to the top is easier than ever!

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. and a leading authority on women’s leadership.

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