Working Strategically and the 3 Legged Stool of Outcome, Game Clock and Value
What if the secret to working strategically wasn’t a set of tasks or a series of decision steps? What if there wasn’t any protocol to follow, but instead it was grounded in perception. Yes perception. What you and I attend to. See what you think, as I present in this blog the case for working and managing strategically as fundamentally requiring a developed scan as well as optimization of resources and options. In fact, this blog is aimed at describing three practical techniques you can use to work more strategically. Techniques that focus on how and what you attend to and scan, as contrasted with working in a “heads down” style. For everyone who manages projects and people, think of working strategically as directly tied to or enhanced by your capability to balance what I call a three legged stool in your field of view. Keep reading, I’ll explain.
The legs under that stool are alignment with Outcome, Time remaining, and current Value/priority. I’ll be much more specific below. But I’m suggesting that when you keep all three in play in your perceptual horizon, you optimize how you manage tasks and people. Stop scanning any one of these processes and you sharply increase the likelihood that your work will miss one or more adjustments needed to keep it strategically fine-tuned and end up with the best results. Let me use the following illustration.
Whether I was at the circus or just reading about it in a comic book, when I was a kid, the “lion tamer” always had two tools for coping with the big cats in the ring. A whip and the three legged stool. When the cat was obliging, the stool not only served as buffer between the lion tamer and the cat, but also a balancing perch on which the cat sat in a controlled manner. Stools are an important tool to use in managing controlled chaos.
Imagine that every day at work, is a little bit like you at the circus in the big cat ring. That’s probably not too hard to imagine. Cats have big mouths and can consume a lot, including you and me. Being in control is always sort of a tenuous thing. The whip can be important, but it’s not something you want to use on the cat except as a last resort. So what does the stool represent and how do you use the stool to help you manage strategically in the ring at work?
Here’s what the three legs of the stool represent for me.
#1 Outcome – The first leg of the stool is an Outcome focus. I don’t want to do anything without knowing the intended outcome. Don’t want to start without knowing where I’m hoping to end up. But that doesn’t cover it all, there’s something more to get with this one.
Some people understand the outcome and then they just jump in. “Well let’s get started.” That usually means they don’t work very strategically or effectively. It’s much better to not start until you know both the outcome and have identified HOW you’re going to get there. This is even more important when you’re not sure of the How. Because instead of randomly trying options, which typically mean we use a familiar approach (versus what might be most effective), you want to enact a plan, test, then adjust and do again.
#2 Game Clock – When I’m playing music, I can suspend time, get lost in the music if I choose, even while paying close attention to the meter of a song. When you and I are working and managing in a strategic manner, we want to do anything but suspend time. If you don’t have a really strong internal clock ticking away in side of your head naturally, develop one or get your pc or watch to prompt you.
The Game clock, as it does in any athletic event, reminds you that you only have so much time left to get ahead, to reach your outcome. Working strategic is paying attention to the time remaining and adjusting the pace and options accordingly.
It’s not working until the task is finished, regardless of the time it takes. It’s not working at a pace that isn’t consistent with the outcome and time remaining. It’s not whining and saying, “I did the best I could.” Working and managing strategically is constantly scanning the game clock and asking yourself these type of questions:
• Do we still have enough time left to finish?
• If not, what needs to change (our approach, our goals?)
• What needs to be reprioritized?
• Who needs to be notified, what needs to change in our estimating? Etc.
#3 Value-Add – The 3rd leg of the stool is the shifting, relative concept of value and priority. Working strategically means understanding that the value-add of whatever you are doing or managing is a constantly changing reference point. Something that is a strong value-add when you started, may change during the course of the day. What seemed critical to accomplish at 8am, may be of secondary value at 10am.
People who don’t manage strategically, don’t pick up or pay attention to the change in value-add. People who don’t work strategically typically need a crisis to readdress value-add changes. If you pay attention to the Outcome and the Game Clock, you keep adjusting the Value-Add and as needed the reallocation of resources to use your resources and options optimally, strategically.
Bottom Line: Working strategically, being a strategic manager, is a heads-up, scan-based work style. Of all the different things you could focus on in your scan, emphasizing the Outcome, Time Remaining, and current Value/Priority are particularly important to helping you achieve your results in a rapidly changing world. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to what you focus on, working heads-down is not a winning proposition.
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