Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Strategic Thinking or Tactical Thinking? What About Getting Something Done?

Strategic Thinking and Tactical Thinking

The semantic and actual differences between strategic thinking and tactical thinking are discussed in thousands of  websites, books and magazine articles.  If you look at the overviews on search engines, you’d almost think one article had been copied 483,672 times. The essence of most of them is this:

Strategic thinking is about what should be done. Tactical thinking is about how to do it.

Organizations Need People Who Will Do Something

In the last few decades there has been a tremendous emphasis on the components and by-products of strategic and tactical thinking: leadership, creativity, analysis, judgment, innovation, courage, vision, persistence, insight and inspiration. As a result, many employees are much more concerned about being considered a thinker than they are concerned or even interested in being a doer.  However, in the real-world of work there are no job descriptions that say,

“Job only requires thinking brilliantly and making plans. No grunt work, administrative work or plain old work involved, ever. Once the big thinking is finished, employee can pick and choose what tasks seem most impressive and dump everything else on others. An infinite amount of time is available for thinking about, meeting about and talking about every project.”

Doing Is Important But Getting Work Done Is Even More Important.

In an effective workplace, work comes in, gets done, goes out and another task–or several–takes its place. In many ways, all work involves an assembly line and a conveyor belt.  However, there is a tendency to think that when an employee is very, very busy, working furiously on task, it is an indicator that he or she is being productive. 

That overlooks the fact that some employees stretch every task to the maximum time allowed and beyond. Some employees create such havoc over routine work that more time is required. Some employees generate extra steps or they need more input, more time, more everything, than is reasonable. Just working at work isn’t enough. In most workplaces, getting done with a task and moving on is what builds the business or the organization. 

 When Strategizing And Planning Are Out Of Balance With Getting Work Done:

  • You hear, “Let’s meet about this again tomorrow” almost every day.  
  • There are large visions without immediate plans of action and a timeline for achieving them.
  • It seems that being asked to strategize or plan is considered a compliment but being asked to do something is irritating or demeaning.
  • Some employees act as though their work is done after they have planned work for others.
  • Tasks and projects are backlogged. Picture a clogged drain pipe with a cup of water being poured in every day but only half a cup draining out. 
  • Time lines are extended repeatedly.
  • There are many times of “back to the drawing board” because of obsessive concerns or a failure to make decisions and get going with the work.
  • A task becomes all-consuming and other employees are expected to make it a priority, no matter how much it disrupts their own work.  
  • Coworkers and clients make “joking” remarks or come right out and complain. 
  • Forward progress has slowed or stopped and daily work has become painfully and unreasonably laborious.

The bottom line: Conceptual, strategic and tactical thinking is needed in every workplace and it should be valued. However, there is a time when the talking and planning needs to stop and work needs to be done–on time, efficiently and effectively.

September 3rd, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 8 comments

Rah-Rah Meetings Are Often Nothing To Cheer About

Ava Hovis Fryer-Arkansas City High School (Kansas) 1964-Rah Rah Rah!!!The employees have their bagels and hot tea or coffee and they gather around the conference table for the weekly or monthly update meeting. After a few opening remarks the manager or supervisor says, “OK then! Let’s go around the table and share what we’re doing right now! Ava, you and your team are sure working hard on your new project, so why don’t you share some of that with the rest of us?”

Two hours later a bored and irritated group trudge out of the meeting, glad it’s over for another week or month.

That negative image is not meant to suggest that you should never have people share information about their work. There can be value in such meetings on occasion. However, think carefully before you make them a regular occurrence or end every staff meeting with a sharing session.  

The Pros and the Cons

1. Everyone gets a chance to talk about their accomplishments and the work they and their teams are doing.
Another view: Self-reporting is often inaccurate, especially if there is a feeling that the more work you report, the better you’ll sound.  Many people over-dramatize or fluff to sound impressive, get sympathy or justify not helping others. This is especially a problem when others know the person reporting only has a lot of things to do because he or she procrastinates or wastes time. Consider setting a time limit of one minute per person and not one second more. People only need to hear an overview list of what others are doing, if that. Managers should not need these reports to make him or her aware of the work being done.

2. Everyone can appreciate the myriad tasks involved in the big picture of work and how much every individual contributes.
Another view: Once you know that, you don’t need to be told the next month and the next and the next. Consider limiting sharing meetings to every six months or so.  

3. Team members may find areas of common focus or concern and perhaps can assist each other.
Another view: The role of a supervisor or manager is to be aware of what work is being done and to bring employees together in ways that will assist them. Consider teaching employees the value of checking with each other to see if someone else has expertise, experience or information. 

4. Managers and supervisors can see how employees interact with each other and how supportive individuals are of the team.
Another view: Rarely do managers do or say anything about how individuals act in meetings, either to commend or correct. They should, but they don’t. I don’t know of many (or any) managers or supervisors who have ever included meeting behavior in performance evaluations. Again, they should, but they don’t. Consider evaluating interactions that take place in other group formats.

5. The manager or supervisor can use the meeting to build the team and identify issues that need to be handled.
Another view: The reports are usually about what one person is doing or what that person’s group is doing, not about the overall work of the group or the organization, so they are not team-oriented. Rarely does the manager or supervisor do a closing that pulls all of the information together for the group, ending the meeting with a team focus. In addition, most issues that are disclosed in meetings are already known. Some meetings are called specifically to get known issues “out in the open.” Problems should be intervened about while they are happening or soon after, rather than waiting to have the problems vented in a meeting. 

6. The manager has an opportunity to commend in public.
Another view:  Some of the weakest, most embarrassing expressions of appreciation I have ever heard have been in meetings when a manager felt compelled to say something positive. Consider a private, sincere thank you. Show your appreciation in public by the supportive, friendly way you treat people and the occasional comment that others hear.

The bottom line: Meetings to share information about work have value when there are clear connections between what each person is doing an an overall task to be accomplished. There is even more value when the leader or a faciliatator briefly makes that connection for the group as each person talks. What I have found to be unhelpful and even damaging are meetings where many people talk at length about their current work and their To Do lists.  Those who like to preen about their work and lists of tasks seem to love those meetings.  Most employees dislike them and resent being required to participate.

Personal, direct and specific conversations will do more to build individuals and the team than forced sharing, with or without bagels and hot tea or coffee.


May 4th, 2010 Posted by | Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 9 comments

Take Someone Along

Rotate through the employees you manage or supervise and take them with you when you can.

Take A Guest To Meetings

If you participate in committees, groups, clubs or activities or attend organizational meetings that are appropriate and not confidential, consider inviting an employee or coworker along now and then–there can be many benefits for both of you.

*Employees and coworkers can expand their views of the organization and your role in it.

*It gives you and the employee or coworker an opportunity to communicate about general issues as well as the issues involved in the meeting or committee.

*It allows the employee or coworker to meet people within and outside your organization and to build a network for his or her professional development.

*It allows you the chance to observe the employee or coworker in another setting, and to discover strengths or developmental needs you might not know otherwise. (And they can observe you, too!)

*It lets employees and coworkers see what you do when you’re out of the office. Nearly always they find out you are not spending the time just having fun!

Lookout For Pitfalls

1. Don’t play favorites.  Try to rotate through the list of potentials unless there are events or meetings that would only be appropriate for one or a few people.  You might be surprised at the topics in which an employee would be interested.

2. Use social graces at the meeting. Arrive early so you can introduce your guest. Especially introduce him or her to the chairman of the committee or to key participants. It  makes everyone feel more valued. Provide the employee or coworker with handout copies and make sure he or she can follow the action (or inaction!) or the meeting.

3. Discuss the role of your guest ahead of time. That is especially important if he or she will be lower in rank or organizational status than others. If he or she will sit in an observer area while you must sit at a table, make that clear in a courteous way.  If you want the employee to feel comfortable speaking up during discussions, let him or her know that as well.

If your guest is someone you supervise, do not have them take notes for you, get coffee for you or anything else that seems menial and not part of a professional role. (At a specific group of meetings I used to  attend, the people who were there with the executives were referred to as “horse holders”.  As in, “We’ll have a seat or two for any horse holders you bring.”  I thought it sounded obnoxious and said so. No one else seemed to think anything of it, including the horse holders!  

4. Don’t gripe and complain.  You don’t have to lie or be insincere if you genuinely hate attending or if you have a deep conflict with another participant.  However, if you feel that negative, maybe you should attend and suffer alone. 

5. Be aware that your guest will be keenly aware of everything you say and do.  You’ll be forced to be on your best behavior. (That’s another advantage to having them there!) Be an example of how a productive meeting participant should talk and act.

6. Use the time after the meeting. Take a few minutes afterwards to get a cup of coffee or have lunch, if time is available.  Go somewhere inexpensive and pay for it–or not–but at least use the time to relax and get to know the employee or coworker better. Don’t use it as a time to gossip or for trying to get the employee on your side or impressing him or her with your accomplishments.

7. Follow up. Let the employee or coworker know meeting results or keep them informed about something in which they would be interested. Let them know that you might be available to attend a meeting they are attending sometime.  It would be good for you to expand your thinking as well.

The bottom line: You can only gain positive influence if you show through your actions that you are credible, dependable and valuable to those with whom you work.  You must also communicate effectively–preferably face to face. You can help to gain all of thsoe characteristics by including others when you attend meetings or gatherings, participate on committees, and take part in other activities related to work. 

Look at your calendar for the next few months and find meetings and events to which you can invite an employee or coworker.  While you are deciding who to ask, consider this thought by the writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It contributes greatly towards a man’s moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.

January 24th, 2010 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 8 comments

Meetings — Ten Ways To Demonstrate Effectiveness

Almost all of us attend meetings at work–although we may not call all of them that because meetings do not necessarily involve sitting at a conference table. Think of a meeting as any time you gather with coworkers in a work setting.

  • A quick huddle with coworkers or peers, related to a specific work situation.
  • A short, planned conversation with people in or out of your group, or with your manager or those you supervise. These are the impromptu meetings that can wreck a day if they are not used wisely.
  • A regularly scheduled meeting. These are usually the ones that are viewed most negatively, although they will probably always be necessary. There seems to be a human resistance to the idea of structured meetings–but you can respond at least a bit differently than that, if you choose to do it!
  • A social gathering at work. (Birthday or other recognition party.) These are as important for your influence and reputation as any other meeting, as well as giving you a chance to focus on others.

Here are ten ways to demonstrate effectiveness when you attend a meeting:

1. Plan for it. When you get the notification, even if it is short notice, consider what you might be able to contribute or what you are expected to discuss. If reading material is attached, read the material so you can effectively discuss it from the very beginning–and so you are not skimming through it as others are talking. 

Consider contacting the person planning the meeting to ask if you can help get things together or do other pre-meeting work. 

This is the time to invite a coworker or direct report (subordinate) if the meeting is open to guests. Many of your meetings may only be for those who were specifically invited, but others are open to those who have a logical reason to attend. This subject was mentioned in a post just last week.

2. Maintain a positive attitude. Keep in mind that few people call a meeting unless they think it is justified–whether you think it is or not. Try to see the purpose of the meeting from that person’s perspective. If you have any control at all over it, perhaps you can suggest another format. If you do not have any control over it, simply accept that it is part of your work and do it.

Never, ever, ever, groan to someone, “I have to go to a meeting tomorrow morning (grimace, frown, whine).” It makes you sound like a victim or a beat-down subservient employee, not a strong individual. No matter how you feel, resolve to talk and act as though you have a leadership role in all of your work. If the meeting is a social meeting–birthday, retirement, baby-shower or other celebration–show good cheer about it just as you would want others to do if the event was in your honor.

3. Arrive a few minutes early. Help those who are setting up the room or distributing material, or use the time to review the material to be discussed. The person who called the meeting will likely be there and will appreciate your punctuality. If it is a social function there are always things to do at the last minute and your help may be invaluable for getting started on time.

4. Sit close to the person who called the meeting. Unless seats are assigned or if you will be sitting with an employee or coworker you have brought, be purposeful about your seating. By sitting near the person who will be central to the meeting, you are more likely to be involved. You also will be less likely to become lethargic as time goes on! You demonstrate your interest and leadership by not being one of those who slink to the back of the room or get as far away from the center of the discussion as possible.

5. Be an active participant throughout the meeting. From the moment the meeting starts until it ends, purposely work to stay active by talking and listening appropriately. Pretend each person there has a rating sheet on which they will evaluate your demeanor and effectiveness.  You never know when their mental evaluation will be important to your career or to future support you receive from them.

Be aware of your waning energy as the meeting continues. Purposely reenergize your attention for each person who contributes, even if you have run out of patience and interest. They are probably nervous and will appreciate your support–and may have something to say you need to hear.

If it is a social function, mingle and chat. Do not stand off to the side or with a small clique of people, refusing to participate. Make sure you talk to the honoree(s). Those actions are noticed and appreciated by many others, especially if you are a supervisor or manager.

During the event consider contacting the person who is responsible for the function and ask again if you can help. You can often identify the person responsible, even if you do not know for sure, because she (or occasionally, he) is busy from start to finish!

6. Talk, if you have something worthwhile to say. It is crucial that meeting participants talk effectively about topics under discussion. Meetings that are considered failures are often actually failures of inviduals to contribute. In addition, having everyone sit silently is discourteous to the person who is asking for input.

Among the things that are worthwhile for you to talk about:
Information that is needed by the others.
A new perspective that might make a difference. 
Support for someone else if it appears they need it. 
Disagreement, when it is important  to present another view.

If you have something on the topic that you want to talk to someone about after the meeting, maybe you should say it in the meeting. There is nothing more frustrating to a meeting leader than hearing everyone who did not discuss the topic when their ideas could have helped, animatedly talking about it to others as they leave the room!

What is usually not worthwhile: Off-topic comments;  redundant comments that do not move the meeting along; comments made primarily to sound impressive or to deflate others; insincere support of others to win their favor, inappropriate humor that stops the momentum.

When you talk, look at everyone now and then not just at the person who called the meeting or at your manager. Make a sincere effort to share inclusively.

7. Listen actively. Look at people when they talk. Do not show your dislike or lack of support or interest by doodling or reading while others are talking. Pay attention to each person as if they were the highest ranking person in your organization. Ask questions if you sincerely have them. Keep your body turned toward the person talking until they are done.

This same advice applies in social meetings. You have probably chatted with someone who acted as though he or she was looking for someone more important to talk to. You know how that feels. Show interest in everyone, then disengage and move to someone else if that is necessary.

8. Limit your note-taking. This may surprise you, but it is a key issue. Most meeting attendees take notes to stay busy–and often to avoid participating–but they never refer to the notes again. Only write key information you know you will not remember, or not have access to otherwise. Put your pen down between notes, so you can show through your body language that you are listening and involved.

9. Help the leader during the meeting. Sometimes the person who calls a meeting is not adept at leading one. Help by working to keep things on topic; ask questions to move things along; mention the time, if it appears there is a lot to cover and little time left. This must be handled appropriately and sensitively, of course, but can be very helpful to everyone, including the leader.

If the leader obviously does not want or need your assistance, no matter how badly things are going, at least you can be the one who does not contribute to the worst of the issues. More than anything, avoid the not-so-subtle eye rolls or glances at friends who share your opinions about a person or issue.

10. Write a follow-up note to the leader (and to others when appropriate.) A short email after a meeting is always appreciated, no matter what the purpose of the meeting. You might write to indicate your plans for further action, or simply to thank the person for setting up the meeting or hosting it in his or her office. Or, you may have an additional question or have found new material on one of the topics discussed.

For a social meeting, it is always appropriate to send a short note to to the honoree and to those who helped put the party together. Such functions involve tremendous work and often no one says thank you–you can be the one!

For either business or social functions, find out who paid for the refreshments, if you know they were not provided by the organization, and give some money to that person–at least a few dollars if you can afford it. The gesture will be appreciated much, much more than you realize!

You may have other ways you demonstrate effectiveness, or things you have observed that have impressed you at meetings. Let me know about those, if you have the time!

June 17th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Take Employees To Meetings

Almost anyone at a supervisory, managerial or executive level can remember a time when going to a meeting with the boss–or in place of the boss–seemed interesting and exciting. Come on, you know you do! I recall being asked by my captain to attend a community meeting when he was busy. I was thrilled about it, hardly slept the night before, and spiffied up for the occasion! Better yet was the time I attended a meeting held in the office of a division chief. I was a lowly sergeant and could barely believe I was sitting in the same room as someone with that much rank! I remember looking around the room and feeling as though I had arrived!

Do not underestimate the value of including employees–even those who do not seem likely to be excited about the idea–when you attend meetings that are appropriate for bringing a guest. Sometimes there are chairs around the room for those accompanying the people sitting at a conference table. (Not an ideal situation, but many attendees actually prefer those peripheral chairs.) The preferable situation is open seating when the two of you are sitting together.

If you take an employee along, make it a learning experience rather than just idle observation. You might suggest things he or she could be looking and listening for. A word of caution: Do not complain about meetings in general or the specific meeting, mock the people attending or spend all your time going and coming to the meeting being negative. This is your chance to show that you make an effort to be effective in every situation.

(Edit note after publishing this post: I have been asked by several people here and by email, if it’s OK to be truthful about not enjoying going to meetings or not to a specific meeting.  I think it is best to be truthful, but that does not mean you have to be brutally honest. Just say you sometimes get frustrated or that you find some specific aspect of it to be irritating. The important thing to is to let the employee know you will do your best to participate effectively, even though your experiences have encouraged you to feel negative. Consider talking to the employee about how any meeting could be made better. One day he or she will chair a meeting and that could be helpful information. 

A meeting with your manager: Taking an employee to a meeting doesn’t have to involve formal meetings with several attendees. Consider purposely setting up a meeting with your manager about once a month, in which you report events in your work group. Let the manager know you will always bring an employee, which is why you will not report anything confidential during those meetings.

The value of including employees in meetings.You may have attended so many meetings that the aura of mystery about them is long gone. To most employees who do not normally attend them, meetings are interesting, a break from work, and a way to meet people outside the immediate work group. If higher level managers are going to present, it becomes even more intriguing. Build on that to use meetings as a way to achieve several worthwhile things:

  1. When you take someone as a guest to a meeting, they feel a stronger connection to you. If they value the meeting, they will value you more for letting them participate.
  2. Employees are more likely to see the bigger picture of the organization when they hear the efforts of others to accomplish projects and improve processes.
  3. Meetings outside the organization helps employees gain even broader perspectives and also helps them see the connections involved in work.
  4. Attending meetings may be the thing that helps employees see themselves in a higher position, and that enthuses them about preparing for a future with the organization.
  5. If you ensure you rotate the participation it will increase your reputation for being encouraging, supportive and fair for all employees.

Look at your calender and pick a meeting or two you can start with soon. Make sure it is OK to bring a guest, then invite a supervisor or employee. Talk to the employee about the group ahead of time, including what you would like the employee to do during the meeting. Follow-up afterward by getting the employee’s viewpoint of the group and the reason for the meeting. The insights you gain may be very valuable!

If you do not have anything scheduled that seems appropriate, purposely set up a meeting. Let the person with whom you are meeting know what you are doing and what you hope to accomplish. Make it a worthwhile time for the everyone. It may even renew your interest in some of the things you are meeting about!


June 10th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 8 comments