New Manager Guide: Big Picture Focus

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Wed, Mar 11 - 1:51 am EDT | 5 years ago by
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Note from Phil: This is the 5th in a series of posts focusing on new managers from leadership expert Dan Erwin. This week Dan discusses the big picture focus needed to get out of the pile and stay above the fray, with some great tips on how to find the big picture focus.

New managers have a real knack for getting mired in project demands and overlooking organizational initiatives.  After all, your previous success was tied to incremental activities.  Now you’re being told to focus on the big picture. 

Why is Big Picture Focus Important?

The job of management is to focus on the company’s business within the marketplace–that’s the big picture.  Now your thinking has to include the marketplace, the competition, the trends taking place in your industry, the kinds of new skills needed to increase productivity, new technology breakthroughs and new business or marketing strategies to compete successfully.

As an individual performer, nearly 100% of your time has been tactical–making a contribution to a short term project.  New managers will probably spend 10% of their time on big-picture items.  The majority of senior executives focus almost completely upon talent development and strategic thinking.  What’s frustrating to many lower level managers is that thinking is not a tangible task or concrete activity that can be accomplished quickly.  As Carol Walker puts it, making time to think, plan and set goals may seem almost self-indulgent.  But the further you go up the ladder the more the tactical  and strategic percentages will flip-flop–to as much as 10% tactical and 90% strategic.

Two Keys to Developing a Big Picture Focus

First, write out strategies and distinguish them from activities which are merely tactics (your individual activities) and specific measures of accomplishment.

Focus on questions like:

  • What new technology will be required for our success next year?
  • What additional skills will we need to build into our staff?
  • What organizational processes will we need to modernize?

Second, don’t forget the soft skills. Critical soft skills may be overlooked because they are so difficult to measure.  But the fact of the matter is that critical soft skills built upon technology advancement often are key to an organization’s success.  For example, note the superbly trained customer service employees that swarm around customers in an Apple Store.  They’ve got both technology and soft skills.

Again and again, managers lose out in their career because they lack big-picture focus.  In my work with executives one of the most common agendas I’m given is to support a director level employee who’s learning to think strategically.  Years ago, the EVP of Research and Development at the Pillsbury Company told me that if I could enable his people to think strategically, I could have a job for life. 

That big-picture focus needs to begin with the new manager.

Additional resource: Carol Walker, Saving Your Rookie Managers from Themselves. Harvard Business Review, April 2002

About the author: Dan Erwin is a nationally recognized management consultant, having coached more than 400 managers and executives from many of the finest corporations in the world, including an extensive client base from the Fortune 500. He remains at the forefront in the practical use of research from neuroscience, managerial training, development, and organizational learning. Learn more about Dan by reading the first chapter of his upcoming book Brainware or by checking out his blog.

Focus Focus photo courtesy of Editor B

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