Strategy. We throw the word around often, but do we really, truly understand what it means? When I started out in this industry 10 years ago, I don’t think I did. It wasn’t until I spent years navigating and making mistakes that I felt what a truly great strategy coming to fruition meant. Now, when I’m lucky I’ve been able to look back and say, “Hey, that happened because of this, like I had planned.” And when it works just right, well that’s a pretty cool feeling.
To me, strategy is the outcome of a number of carefully planned and plotted events and decisions. Great strategy is a mix of timing, experience, skill sets, patience, and intuitively knowing when to step in and change something. I would also argue that truly great strategy has a bit of magic in it, something you just can’t describe that helps move things forward.
These five steps break down what strategy means when it comes to your career, and provide a tactical path for implementing more of it in your day-to-day actions. I hope this demystifies “The Big S” and helps you move forward in the direction of your dream career, whatever direction that may be.
Step 1: Make a road map
Visualize your ideal outcome and work backwards on how you’ll get there. Do you hope to run a team? Work at a big brand? Found a startup? Get as detailed as you’d like and actually understand why these goals are important to you.
Separate the road map into tangible tasks that can be addressed in smaller chunks. What can you do today that is going to get you closer to your goal? Ask yourself this daily. The road map can be messy or thorough – whatever works for you. It can be scribbled on a notebook or typed in a nice PDF. Don’t fuss over what it should include or how it should look, just get it in writing enough for it to make sense to you. Read it over and commit to it. This might be a good time to consult industry professionals or others who may have more experience in strategic planning in your field. They’ll help you refine the plan and ensure it’s realistic.
Step 2: Identify networks and contacts
Identify people or groups that can help you along your road map and get you closer to the end goal. What is it that you’ll need from them? How are you going to get in touch with them or get their attention? Make a small, local list and grow from there. Start a database Excel sheet so you can keep track of your interactions. Remember to touch base with your contacts every so often, and be organized.
Once the network is identified, start reaching out to these people and finding ways to work with them. Sometimes it’s a give and take – and you might have to do something outside of your road map in order to get them to do something that’s outside theirs. Get comfortable with this idea! Example: one of your ideal mentors needs someone to help them with their personal social media outlets. You may be trying to move away from digital marketing and towards interior design, but if you help them with social media you will gain their trust and support.
Also, keep your network list handy if you run into any obstacles on your path. Sometimes the way to weasel out of an annoying situation is closer than you think.
Step 3: Communicate your goals and check yourself
Share your goals and vision with other people in your support network, as they’ll help you keep focused and might even have some contacts of their own to donate to the cause! People are drawn to others’ ambitions and goals.
In addition, it’s important that you check yourself. You don’t want to forget or get sidetracked on this very important mission. Set up reminders to reread the road map weekly. This will keep it fresh in your mind and make it easier for you to deal with the day-to-day grind that goes along with achieving your goals. It also plants a seed in your subconscious, which will help to steer you in the right direction.
Step 4: Do the work
This is the hard part. You actually have to grind it out – really get your hands dirty. Don’t mindfuck yourself into procrastinating and not actually following the items you wrote on the road map. You’ve made it this far, and staying focused is a key part of the process! Go the distance and fight for every opportunity that gets you closer to the end goal. Sometimes your hard work seems like it isn’t getting you anywhere or feels anti-climactic, but, trust me, the only difference between you and every executive that’s more successful than you is that they stayed focused throughout this phase. Successful people will tell you that there’s no magic or glamour in what they do until they look back at a later date. Keep your head down!
Step 5: Be patient, stay positive
Nothing epic or huge happens overnight. You can do everything in the world to get closer to your dreams every single day, and it still may take 10 years to achieve them. Know that good things are heading your way. The best part of strategic wins is that sometimes when you’ve reached the goal, you don’t even notice. It’s as if you’ve fallen in love with the process in the meantime. But when you do shake yourself and notice, boy, does it feel great! Hang in there until then, and don’t waste energy counting the days!
Lots of people get discouraged sticking to a particular strategy, especially if it gets trickier than they had originally expected. Especially if you are job hunting it’s easy to feel the power is not in your hands. Sometimes it’s hard to find the same excitement and passion you had when you were devising your road map as when you’re actually carrying out the strategy one or two years later. You might not be in the same headspace anymore. Remember that strategies can change, but to really achieve your goals, it’s important that you fight for the success of your strategy, and give it your all. Don’t give up on it when things get rough! Expect that there will be roadblocks and take pride in overcoming each one of them and keeping your head high.
Now go forth and achieve your wildest dreams,
Fair Game is a website and blog committed to sharing tips, advice, and spreading the word about the benefits of great organizational culture and effectivity. Every company deserves to be a healthy and progressive workplace. Founded by Sari Delmar, Fair Game was launched in January 2017.