In the first part of the interview with Professor Vedavyas on decoding strategy, he spoke about what strategy really is. In the second part we look at strategy from the middle manager’s lens. Do you think strategy in your everyday work? You probably should. Read on to find out how you can inculcate the strategic thinking.
Q5. What can one do as a middle manager to accelerate into senior leadership? What are the key leadership and strategic skills he or she should demonstrate to be able to make the transition?
First and foremost, put yourself in the shoes of a CEO. Not an easy task, but with conscious effort, you can go a long distance. Your whole perspective for decision making will change when you start thinking of all stakeholders whose interests have to be taken into account while making a decision.
Second, get a good understanding of what strategy means. Your ability to understand a given situation from a strategic implications point of view is crucial to making plans for the company. Strategy involves understanding the industry, competition, SWOT analysis, markets, employees, value creation, the four Ps, Alliances, Diversification and many other things. While you can learn these as you move up, my experience is that you will be able to add more value to your organization if you are aware of the elements of strategy. That should certainly help accelerate you into senior leadership.
Third, build your leadership and communication skills. You will rarely find a great leader who was also not a great articulator. As a leader, it is your job to articulate the vision as well as the strategy so that the whole organization is working towards a purpose. People need a purpose to focus and be most productive. And remember - leadership is not about shouting orders - it is about making other people believe in and commit to your vision. You should be a General and a Soldier at the same time.
Fourth, and this is an extension of being a leader - show concern for others and be ethical - even at the worst of times. There is no point in showing a high EPS if this is not achieved through ethical means and responsible action towards society and environment. You want to grow to be a leader in thought and action
Q6. What role does strategy play in success of projects and programs?
An organizational level project or program is initiated in order to carry out a piece of strategy. It could be for example, a new product development, a strategic alliance or a joint venture. Either way, such a program has to be program managed and its success is critical for sustained competitive advantage. In fact, failure may mean the company will not survive. Here, organization may not necessarily mean an entire company. It may be a business unit, a functional group or a department.
So, it is important that Project and Program Managers understand the importance of strategy as their success may decide the fate of the organization. Now, strategy may change often due to changes in the marketplace. This means, your program charter will necessarily change mid-flight. In order to steer the project in the right direction, you should understand the overarching strategy of the organization. To appreciate it really well, you should understand what strategy is all about, so that when you execute programs that are key to achieving strategy, you will do a good job of achieving its goals.
Q7. Which key tools or frameworks do you recommend to effectively apply strategy?
There is a plethora of tools available, mainly in the strategy formulation stage. Many of these are frameworks that help you analyse and understand parameters relevant for strategy in a structured manner. These include PESTLE analysis, SWOT analysis, Porter's Five Forces model, Porter's diamond, Strategic group mapping, Value Chain Analysis etc. Together, they help make sense of the macro environment, the industry, competition, internal situation etc.
Most of the available tools are helpful for Corporate and Business level strategy and very few for Operational strategy. As a Program Manager, you may be initially involved in formulating and executing operational strategy. However, alignment to Business strategy is required in order to allocate scarce resources and still achieve the goals.
One needs to first understand strategy in the overall context before rushing to apply tools. You need to understand the context and be clear about the vision the organization wants to achieve before embarking on using the tools. After all, strategy is the set of planned actions you take in order to achieve a vision
Q9. Your message to middle managers waiting for a career break into the coveted corner office.
First of all, do not work merely with the aim of getting that corner office. That office should come to you because you deserve it, because you are adding that kind of value to your organization. You can be a leader even without the corner office. If people are coming to you for advice, if they are confiding in you, if the senior management respects your views and your honesty, if your peers admire you, if your subordinates are ready to die for you, you are a leader.
Prof. Vedavyas has more than 25 years of industry experience. He was the Regional Head of TCS in Birmingham, UK and was Senior Vice-President at Tech Mahindra (earlier Mahindra Satyam) responsible for global Telecom business before moving to academics.
He studied B.Sc., from the National College, Bangalore and went on to complete his B.E., in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Indian Institute of Science. He completed his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.