Helping new managers to see the big picture

Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

COLLEEN CLARKE, From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

The scenario

I am the director of a relatively new group of junior managers. They are very task-oriented, keen and ambitious, but they just don’t think beyond their roles and responsibilities and their specific team and look at the issues more globally to help the business.

How can I get them to think in a more strategic sense, to develop broader vision and not wait to be told what to do?

The advice

It sounds to me like you want your managers not only to execute their tasks but also to think ahead, to process information they discover and incorporate it into the bigger picture, and to take the initiative. There are a number of things you can do to help them develop strategic thinking.

Expand their knowledge

Try offering cross-training and job shadowing as ways for your new managers to understand and experience the tasks performed by their direct reports; this will help them develop a broader perspective on how one position ties into another.

It is essential that each manager know the skills, strengths and accomplishments of the colleagues and partners upon whom they rely to do their job. Knowing what others have to offer will get them thinking about collaboration when problems require a quick solution.

Turn them loose

Encourage the managers to follow up on all suggestions, advice and information they hear or read about. Give them the authority to take the initiative to turn opportunities into action without having to go through a bureaucratic approvals process. We often say “someone should do something about it” – taking action on an idea will make your manager that someone.

Broaden their perspective

Suggest that the managers have conversations with workers in other departments to get a different perspective on their own division. This will help spur creative problem solving. Spending too much time within their own small section can make people narrow-minded and pedantic.

Hold a brainstorming session with the entire department to draw up lists of where else in the company – or the industry, or even the world – their accomplishments could make a difference.

Support fresh thinking

Encourage your fledgling managers to develop new ideas and go beyond the tried and true. This can range from reading books to attending professional development sessions and conferences, to joining or starting a professional group focused on their areas of work. Pushing the boundaries can also be as simple as using a different procedure in a long-standing process or system.

Strategic thinking isn’t simply about working efficiently: It has to become a mind-set of thinking beyond your personal constraints. But it is an acquired skill for many, and needs to be learned and developed to become a natural way of responding and working.

Before any of these techniques can be effectively realized, there must be trust between you and your managers, and the company’s employees as a whole. They must know that if they step out of their comfort zone to try a new strategy, you will be there to back them up, no matter the outcome.

Colleen Clarke is a corporate trainer and career adviser in Toronto.