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Letters to a Young Manager

The Secret to Success, #48
LTYM > Strategy

Dear Sophie,
Developing a strategic plan is not easy, even if you have a picture and story about where you are going.

When I joined Save the Children my first assignment was to develop a global IT strategy for the Agency. I felt up to the challenge but wanted to include the best information and as many well thought out alternatives as I could. After all, this organization was about saving children’s lives!

Gathering as much data and including the best insights from the management gurus I had studied meant climbing a mountain of information. And I had only thirty minutes to present my plan. So I did what any over-achieving manager in a new position would do: I froze. I felt overwhelmed by the size of the task and the importance of the result.

The answer came from an old Chinese proverb. (Truth be told, it was from a fortune cookie, likely lifted from a Woody Allen quote.) It was simply “the secret of success is getting started.” Like the Peters and Waterman finding of “ready, fire, aim,” sometimes you just need to do something.

So I held a meeting and asked how information moved from a donor to a child and back again. As people talked about the steps I would draw a map (Sounds like the pictures in Mrs. Heitner’s class, yes?) Soon I had a flipchart of how the basic information was flowing and where what I call “the pain points” were. In short, I learned through this question and answer process that Save the Children had created a headquarters-centric model with disconnected destinations. This meant that fundamental information was taking three or more weeks to make the round trip. The details are not important but what followed was. I asked, “what if we were all in the same village?” We would all have the information at the same time (or almost the same time.) So what we needed was a virtual village!

That’s what got our new strategy started. The original diagram on the flipchart became the picture of the problem and how we were going to solve it. Bottom line? We got started. We drew a picture, gained some insights, focused up a vision, and then wrote the plan.

I don’t mean to make this sound too easy, but it’s to prove to you that the secret really is in getting started. It also helps if you get a small group together of people who know the details and ask them questions, talk about what is, why, and what it can be.
Hang in there,

Moral of story:

The secret to success is getting started.

Discussion Questions:

1) How would you describe your company's or department's strategy in a one minute commercial?
2) What’s the future vision of what you want to be and who you want to serve? Can you state this in nonfinancial terms?
3) What bet are you making for a destination and direction and how is that different from other bets?
4) How are you differentiated in the marketplace? What makes your strategic direction unique from others?

For Further Reading:

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