Strategic Management for Beginners

When you get your first management role you are likely to be supervising operations. This is a great way to start your management career. It is here that you get a broader picture of what is going on in your organisation and hands on experience of dealing with problems. Dealing with problems is what you are there for. People might be off sick, on training, or annual leave your job here is to keep the process running while maintaining standards during this period where you are short of staff. Finding creative solutions to this situation is where you have the opportunity to shine. You might move staff from activities that can wait for a bit, you might get staff to agree to work extra hours, you might streamline processes along the way. The main thing is you resolve the problem. Operational management is all about sorting out these day to day problems. Being good at sorting out problems depends on your ability to keep your staff and your customers happy. It requires excellent analytical, problem solving and social skills coupled with a firm grasp of the reality on the ground. The better you are at sorting out problems the better a manager you are. However, once you go higher up the management ladder you become more strategic and less operational in your function.

Strategic management is a different challenge from operational management. Managing at this level requires the ability to look longer term and plan for the future. To ensure your organisation is ready to embrace the opportunities that come along rather than react to them. Managing strategically is very difficult if operationally you are in a mess (firefighting). The first challenge, therefore, is to sort out the operational management to enable you to put strategic management into effect.

All good managers need to keep in close touch with what is going on at ground level to be effective strategic managers. There are three ways in which you can know what is going on in your organisation:- the first is to do ‘the thing’ yourself, the second is to listen to the people who are doing ‘the thing’, the last is to receive reports containing data on ‘the thing’. The ‘thing’ here could be your production operation, your sales, your services, your matches (as in sport), your battles (as in war). Clearly each of these means of knowing what is going on has pros and cons, so the best option, if possible, is to gather information from all means. Once you have information you need to analyse it. Your ability to analyse information is important but more important still is the ability to be honest when looking at the evidence. This is where personal traits become more important than management theory or management techniques.

Developing strategy
Developing strategy

Once you have made an honest appraisal of what is going on you need to find a solution that is commensurate with the scale of the problem. This is where you need a good mathematical/analytical approach. When looking at staffing for example, a good rule of thumb is to hire seven staff where your estimate is the need for six posts. This is because staff are not always available due to annual leave, training, sickness, vacancies, jury service etc. In this example the operational manager has the task of keeping the service running when staff are short while the strategic manager has the task of ensuring there are sufficient staffing levels long term. The strategic manager should ensure that a staffing crisis does not occur every couple of weeks. The only reason for a staffing crisis should be very exceptional circumstances. Strategic solutions to a staffing issue could include looking medium term at business trends, projected performance, contingency planning, reviewing staffing levels, reviewing staff skills and cross training, reviewing pay and conditions, reviewing business processes and automation, and reviewing internal communications and intelligence. Once a review or series of reviews have taken place actions should be written up and consulted upon. A strategy should then be put in place to address the issue. Once embedded the new strategy should be reviewed and amended where necessary. It is a good idea to consult as often as possible with customers, other relevant stakeholders and your staff. This process of review, consultation, strategy and action should be tailored in the level of detail according to the size of your operation. If you are a small business this process could be followed without being supported by too much documentation whereas if you are a medium or large organisation this process should be supported by formal documentation and governance procedures.

The examples given here are for staff shortages but this strategic management process can be applied to a wide range of issues such as maintaining quality, controlling costs, developing future products or services, systems failure, and many others.

I hope this very brief overview of strategic management has been useful.

By Martin Sepion

Tek Tonic Tips for People Management

What is an organisation? An institution? A business or a charity? Is it a building, a set of policy documents and strategy papers, a niche in the market or a set of values? It is a group of people. In the 21st century, machines do the doing. People do the creative stuff. Your people define your identity and your place in the world. Everything else is a product of your people.

University of London Staff
University of London Computer Centre Staff

In a technology driven world we can easily get focussed on the every more impressive capacity of our machines but we should be concentrating on our highest value asset – our people. This is why people management is the most important of all management skills. As a manager you should prioritise the whole process of managing your staff above all else. Manage them well and your enterprise will thrive. They will sort out all the other things managers often become bedraggled with.

How to manage people well

Employ managers who have excellent social skills, are genuine, honest and interested in people. They need to be able to recognise and appreciate talents that they themselves may not possess. Put time and effort into the entire staffing process. From team structure, job definition and person specification to recruitment. Induct your staff and support their development throughout their time with you. Give them challenges that stretch them but are within their potential. Support them when it is time for them to move on. The best managers act as tutors and mentors to their staff. Taking responsibility for projects while freeing your workers to contribute their ideas and creativity. Most importantly spend 98% of your time as a manager praising and encouraging versus 2% correcting and criticising your people. Do not ask them to do anything you would not do yourself and lead by example. Stick up for your team, celebrate their achievements and promote their value to the rest of the organisation.

UoL Staff
UoL Staff

Listen to your staff, trust them, and focus your energy as their manager on addressing the challenges to greater performance. If it is lack of time, lack of resources, lack of skills, lack of people your staff will bring these issues to you. As a manager it is your job to find solutions to these problems. Your solutions must be equal to the scale of the problems. If you need ten more people to get your project finished on time and you only provide one you are not doing your job as a manager. If you negotiate a weeks extension to the project and you need 10 you are not doing your job as a manager. The same is true of resources or budgets. You need to be a realist and willing to bring your honest appraisal of requirements up the chain of command. This is where you need courage to be an effective manager.

Stressed people are unproductive whilst a harmonious environment is a hotbed of creativity and productiveness.

These things are not easy but if you follow this approach you will be surprised by the creativity of your staff and the growing capability of your organisation.

By Martin Sepion