Across this year I have spent a significant amount of time helping leaders in the arena of strategic planning. There’s a very simple process that has been at the centerpiece of my consulting. The more time I spend with these components, the more I also see their applicability to our personal goals.
The first step in embracing a “strategic life” is to gain clarity on a couple of clear, tangible goals. These are the big “what” questions that must be answered before any of your actions are to have significant alignment. What exactly do you want, and when do you want it? So much of our vocational and existential frustration can be absolved by giving yourself permission to explore this with some depth. One cannot microwave the answers to such questions; they must be allowed to incubate, and then fine-tuned, edited, strengthened.
Once the goal (or the “what” I want) is solidified, it’s time to move into the “how in general” you will accomplish the goal. “How” is simply a basic term for strategy. Strategy is how you plan to reach the goal. And it needs to be a bit on the generic side, more flavored with a big picture perspective as opposed to specific, in-the-weeds details. Perhaps you’ll have two or three high-level strategies that will help you to execute one specific goal.
Flowing from the high-level strategies are more specific ones that flesh out the actionable details. If high-level strategy is the “how in general,” then as strategies become more tactical (indeed, some call this next step the “tactics”) the question becomes, “Now, tell me more about how exactly you plan to do this?” The challenge is to become as specific and concrete as possible: What exactly will you do and when? Who else will be involved? How will you measure your progress or success? What other resources do you need?
This process might seem draining to those who do not normally dwell in the strategic planning space. But it is threaded with discipline, which when embraced will force your mind to focus and cut through the clutter, rationalizations and vagaries that often prevent us from truly achieving our goals.
Try this process on yourself. Let’s say your goal is to go back to graduate school and earn your masters. Brainstorm the specific components of the goal—what exactly you would like to study, which degree you want to earn and the potential school at which you will earn it. Moving from there, flesh out a few how-in-general strategies that will enable you to accomplish the goal of earning your masters. These will likely relate to things you must do at home and at work in order to position yourself to begin school. You then must drill these high-level strategies down into more tactical steps, very specific actions that you can illustrate on some sort of timeline that flows into the achievement of your goal.
There is no goal toward which this type of process is not relevant. Too many people give up or get distracted from a goal because they do not take the time to detail a working strategy. Try it now for the thing you most want, for time and life are precious.