If you work just about anywhere, there’s no doubt you’ve heard the term “strategic” being tossed around. Although it may seem like a buzzword that only applies to those in the corner office, this approach to work is important for everyone who wants to make their way up the ladder an advance in their careers.
But what, exactly, does it mean to be strategic?
According to UMGC alumna Diana Thomas ’01 & ‘04, co-author of Be More Strategic in Business: How to Win Through Stronger Leadership and Smarter Decisions, it’s quite simple.
“For me, it goes back to understanding what your company does and how it makes money, and knowing what its vision and purpose is,” she explains. “Whatever you do, if you want to really add value to the company and be successful, your work has to connect to the bigger picture and purpose of the company.”
Here’s how to take a more strategic approach to your work—and create opportunities for success along the way.
Before you do anything, you need to make sure you have the basic aptitude required for your job.
“You need to know the fundamental skills for your position, along with the competencies you need to learn to be successful in the role you want in the future” Thomas notes.
This means you should evaluate what skills your job requires, which you excel at, which are in need of improvement and which you simply don’t have yet. Once you identify gaps in your skillset, you can go out and get them. This may mean taking classes, attending seminars, networking and more.
“I believe everyone should have a professional development plan,” she says. This enables you to focus on strengthening what you’re already good and creating opportunities by mastering new competencies.
Once you do so, “You can show up at a higher level and make a bigger impact at work,” Thomas adds.
If you continue to learn and grow but notice that your colleagues are passing you by on their way to promotions, get curious. “Ask questions,” says Thomas, and you will learn where you are missing the mark and how to course correct to get back on track.
Understand your organization’s story
Every organization has a story – the narrative of how it came to be and its vision for where it wants to go. As an employee, it’s critical that you know this inside and out if you want to work more strategically.
When you know what your company’s vision is, you begin to perform in your role differently. For instance, you evaluate what you and your team are doing and if that work is contributing to the organization’s goals. Knowing this helps you make better decisions about where to spend your time, budget and staffing resources.
“When employees are engaged around the vision, it can guide their actions. This is what I think creates the best work environment where people can thrive and bring to life those things that need to happen that help bring the company forward,” Thomas says. “If you understand the vision and what the company is trying to do, it will start showing up in your language.”
To Thomas, these employees seem smarter and more strategic, rather than tactical and working blindly simply to check tasks off lists. All this adds up to value that your boss is sure to notice.
When you’re trying to work more strategically, it’s important to solicit feedback from others who also have a stake in the game, such as your boss, your colleagues and employees who report to you.
Since it’s often difficult to evaluate ourselves, it’s a good idea to engage with others to ask how well you are delivering on your goal of working with the company’s vision in mind.
“Talk to people you can get honest feedback from and who can tell you if you are showing up at the right level,” Thomas says.
Reap the rewards
When you begin to work more strategically, those around you will take notice.
“You’ll be seen as somebody who wants to grow, learn and adapt to help companies thrive instead of just get by,” sums up Thomas. “That’s where people succeed today.”