This series of articles is for the leaders in the trenches … the line and middle managers that are responsible, sometimes unknowingly, for half the market cap of a corporation. One error, incident, or security compromise can negatively impact a company overnight. Unfortunately, senior leaders often don’t get it.

So far in this series, we addressed why senior leaders may miss the importance of strategic decisions being made locally. In this article we will look at the drivers.

Understand the Drivers

A company’s strategic interests are the key drivers for specific business decisions. Any decision that is unpopular must be tested against this basic principle. If we make the wrong decision, will the result impact the company’s strategic interests?

Most decisions made by managers are not strategic in nature, though they may support strategic direction. Typically, managers allocate resources, resolve barriers, and lead teams to accomplish work. Sometimes I think of them as the ultimate tightrope walker. There is a fine line between too few resources and too many resources on projects; between pushing back firmly and being considered obstinate.

Sometimes managers may find themselves wanting to challenge their boss and higher management. Before making such a challenge, it is wise to ensure the drivers (the reasons for wanting to challenge) are correct. An acid-test question is needed: What is in the best interests of the company? We also need to recognize that decisions in the trenches are often time-sensitive. To be prepared, a manager should think through these drivers before facing a hard decision.

The strategic interests of the company may include among others – survival, growth, image, stock valuation, safety performance, and regulatory compliance. These interests are often interrelated and can probably be summed up in two or three major themes – financial, safety and security.

During downturns, companies reduce cost. The expectation is that everyone will willingly look for ways to trim budgets. However, to do more with less introduces stress and fatigue, and may result in an increased risk of incident or failure. Line managers deal in reality. They see the indicators and consequences clearly.

So, when facing a strategic decision locally, ask yourself “If this decision is wrong, what are the consequences for the company? Will our image be affected on national or international news? Will our company be responsible for the loss of life of our employees or others? Would a breach in security place our company, stockholders, or customers at risk?”

Answering these questions will not make your decision for you. However, they will help you recognize the strategic implications of decisions you are making locally.  In the next article of this series, we will address the implications of what strategic decisions can mean to you personally.

This blog post is part of a series of installments on making strategic decisions locally:

  1. Part 1: Why Senior Leaders May Miss the Importance of Local Strategic Decision-Making
  2. Part 2: Understand the Drivers
  3. Part 3: Recognize Strategic Implications
  4. Part 4: Commit to the Fix