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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting Down in the Weeds

This is where a lot of managers like to be. If you think of the levels of management as a pyramid, with few jobs the higher up you move, you can see that there are a lot of managers out there who spend a fair amount of time in the bottom or tactical level of supervision.

There's absolutely no problem with that. Businesses need lots of managers at the store/office/center level. A problem can arise when some of the tactical managers get promoted and are required to think at a more strategic level:

  • Tactical = how / actions
  • Strategic = what, who, why / plans
We, humans, like to "go with what we know" and think tactically most of the time, it seems. It's just that the management pyramid example also works when you think of the division of tactical versus strategic thinking required at a particular management level. If lower level bosses aren't trained and pushed toward strategic thinking (because some people think that way naturally, but most have to be taught), then they tend to continue thinking in tactical terms.

I used to work on a volunteer board of directors, most of whose members had little overall experience or aptitude with strategic thinking. Since it was a volunteer group, no strategic training was in place, and the directors were just called upon to use their best judgement. While their intentions were good and pure, they were often at a loss to think strategically about the vision and direction of the organization. Instead, they got down in the weeds, preferring to spend their time discussing the details of a particular problem (how much a piece of equipment would cost or what it's specifications were, for example). They were going where they were comfortable instead of letting the volunteer managers at the next levels down do what they were supposed to do.

In order to help tactically thinking managers progress to higher-level thought processes, bosses need to expose them to strategic issues, give them good examples of strategic thought, and then encourage them to practice thinking and sharing in those terms. Practice really does make perfect in this instance.

If you're a mid- to high-level manager, where's your level of comfort? Are you primarily a tactical thinker or do you spend more time thinking strategically?

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