I remember the review I had when I was up for a promotion from account supervisor to managing supervisor.
I was ready for the promotion. I knew I’d been working in that capacity for a good six months. I outlined my business reasons and rehearsed them so I’d be ready to present to my boss.
The review went swimmingly. Everything was perfect until the very last comment: “You need to be more strategic.”
I was 27 years old. I had all of five years of experience, and suddenly I had to be more strategic if I wanted that promotion.
What stuck with me all these years (I mean, the last three years) is no one told me what being strategic meant. My boss said it, and that was that. I don’t think she even knew what it meant, in retrospect. That’s why she couldn’t answer my questions.
As a boss, I never provide that feedback to someone without explaining what it means, providing examples and giving him or her a clear path to get there.
And trust me, this conversation comes up a lot — particularly in the PR industry. We tend to be much more tactical than strategic.
Be a strategic thinker
The author, Paul J.H. Schoemaker, listed these six habits:
- Think critically
Let’s break those down from a PR perspective:
I recently wrote about the big move Visa made by firing its PR agencies and bringing all of the work in-house.
I have no idea if this is a trend other large companies will follow or a silly mistake the company will soon rectify, but I know it could happen. So, I’m keeping a careful eye on it.
If it begins to happen with other companies, my team and I have already begun thinking about how it could affect our communications firm. We have a pivot plan in place to move with the trend.
To be a strategic thinker, watch the trends. Pay attention to the economic signals. Watch the big moves happening in the industry. Anticipate how all of this could affect your career or business.
2. Think critically
One day when I was walking my dog, Jack Bauer, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Critical thinking: The other national deficit.” “No kidding,” I thought.
We tend to take things at face value, and fail to use our critical thinking skills to question what’s in front of us.
You see this happen online all the time. My favorite is a photo of Abraham Lincoln with the caption, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there is a picture with a quote next to it.”
We get complacent, stop questioning, become less curious, and all of that forces us to lose our competitive edge.
To be a strategic thinker, stop taking things at face value and use your brain.
It’s fairly easy to look at the Visa example above and dismiss it as the company making a big mistake. It’s easy to think to yourself, “Next we’ll be hearing Visa hired three more PR agencies.”
But if you want to be a strategic thinker, you don’t take news like that at face value.
You pay attention to what other large companies are doing — particularly trendsetters such as Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.
Watch what they do with PR and their agencies. Find similarities in how they launch new campaigns, and interpret what you think it could mean for your organization or your clients’ businesses.
To be a strategic thinker, you must watch trends, pay close attention to industry news and interpret what it could mean for you.
Raise your hand if you overanalyze everything. (I’m looking at some of you!)
Some people tend to get analysis paralysis and can’t make a decision to save their lives. They get wrapped up in all of the data and interpreting it that they paralyze themselves and can’t move forward.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” Sandberg describes a poster on the wall at Facebook’s office: “It’s better to be finished than to be perfect.”
To be a strategic thinker, you need to be decisive, fast and finished.
This one is hard for me for two reasons: I want everyone to have a voice, and I have a need to be liked (I’m working on it).
It is impossible to have a complete consensus (anyone who has planned a wedding knows you will never make everyone happy), but a strategic thinker will listen to all sides, assess the risks, bring tough issues out in conversation and figure out where the balance is.
From a PR perspective, we do this nearly every day. We know how to communicate with different stakeholders and how to turn brand detractors into loyalists.
Now take that talent and turn it inward. How can you align the team you lead, the client’s organization or even your executive team?
To be a strategic thinker, stop being fearful. Use your communication skills to align your teams.
One of my favorite sayings is, “It doesn’t matter if you fall, but how you get up when you do.”
During the Great Recession, I had that taped to my wall and looked at it every day.
To say I learned a ton in that three-year period is putting it mildly.
Because of that (and other mistakes I’ve made), I’m a big believer in failing – if you learn something from it.
To be a strategic thinker, you have to fail so you can learn. It’s the only way to do work on the other five habits.