Win big by balancing the big picture and the details


Balancing the big picture with the details creates a strong competitive advantage.

Every business needs two very different types of people to succeed over the long term, or people with two, often contrary, skill sets: big-picture thinkers and those who focus on the details.

Big picture people live at the 30,000-foot level, constantly exploring possibilities and potential to see where the organization could or should go. The “detailers” live in the trenches, focusing on the day-to-day tasks and activities that need to get done so the organization can win. They tend to be more reactive. These two personality types think, process information and make decisions very differently, and both bring a much-needed perspective to the table. The challenge for today’s business leaders is we often need to be both at the same time.

Too often, leaders think that creating a winning strategy is enough to position their organizations as market leaders. Yet, in today’s insanely fast-moving markets, strategy development is only half the battle. If you can’t execute quickly and with flexibility, even the most brilliant strategy won’t get off the ground.

Successfully navigating your business through the ups and downs of today’s chaotic markets requires the ability to think strategically (big picture) and implement according to that strategy (details). This poses a daunting challenge for most leaders. It grows even more difficult when you consider that the speed, rate of change, and universal access to information have created a whole new set of demands that require your daily attention.

Balancing your energy and attention across both strategy and execution requires a combination of skills and ways of thinking that may not be natural to you. However, when you pull it off, balancing the big picture with the details creates a strong competitive advantage by allowing you to focus on the right opportunities for your organization. It also enables you to maximize the organization’s available resources, and develop the ability to quickly respond to sudden market changes.

Focusing on the Big Picture
Tracking the big picture involves pausing from time to time to scan the horizons beyond your industry, including three areas in particular:

  • Current players. How are you positioned in relation to competitors within your industry? Are they growing faster or slower than you? If they’re generating faster growth, what are they doing new, different or better than you? Are they merely improving the status quo, or are they transforming your industry?
  • Potential new players. Look at companies in industries adjacent to yours. What barriers to entry would they face if they decided to enter your industry? Do they have the people, technology and resources to overcome those barriers? What new technologies or ways of working are on the horizon that might eliminate those barriers? Do any potential players have the capability to introduce disruptive innovation into your industry?
  • The world at large. What companies/industries currently enjoy the fastest growth rates? What issues and problems do they solve for their customers? Are those solutions likely to impact your business or industry? Where are unexpected competitors most likely to come from?

Every now and then, pause just enough to look up, look around, and consider significant changes and shifts in trends, demographics, customer wants and needs. Keep up with your industry’s trade journals. Watch TED videos about unrelated topics. Visit competitors’ Facebook and website pages. Use your industry association for research on the world beyond the four walls of your business.

Most important, talk with your team on a regular basis about how the data you collect could impact your business, industry or customers. Look for patterns and connections between seemingly disparate companies or industries. Constantly ponder, “What if…..?”

Focusing on Implementation
Big picture thinking requires letting go of old ideas and letting the mind wander and explore new ideas and possibilities. Taking care of the details requires focus on the here and now.

To stay focused on implementation, pause briefly and plan out your time for the week ahead. Break it down into separate activity blocks, such as collecting data on one of your key strategies, hands-on work on a critical initiative, or participating in feedback sessions, customer meetings, and communication events.

As the week unfolds, track the amount of time you allocate to each activity block and ask:

  • Does this align with and support our vision of winning?
  • Am I ignoring or missing critical areas?
  • Are some areas taking up too much of my time for the anticipated return?
  • Of all that I am doing today and throughout the week, what will have the most impact a year from now?

Staging your vision helps to balance the big picture with the details. For example, use tools that enable you to develop a sense of urgency around strategy and focused implementation. These tools can range from the simplistic – yellow sticky notes attached to your bathroom mirror or car dashboard – to the high-tech, such as an automated “task ping” from your PC, laptop, cell phone or mobile device. Use a variety of visual tools to keep you focused on the activities that will turn your plan into reality.

Develop a scorecard to help clarify the strategy and goals while managing implementation across individuals, departments, and initiatives. This gives you a variety of views into the business and helps maintain focus across your most important indicators.

Start each day asking yourself “Of what I do today, what will progress us the most toward winning?”

When to Balance
Obviously there will be times when you need to devote more attention to creating a strategic plan than implementation, and vice versa. Conversely, there are times when balancing the big picture with the details should take precedence over the individual components. These include:

  • When developing action steps to implement the strategic plan
  • When existing strategic initiatives are not getting implemented because key steps keep falling through the cracks
  • When planning and launching new strategic initiatives
  • When good ideas abound but none result in improved work processes or innovative products
  • When the organization struggles to meet its most important goals and objectives

Seeing the bigger picture is all about charting a winning course for the organization. But when it comes to reaching the destination, it’s the day-to-day actions — such as communicating, providing feedback, realigning behaviors, recognizing others, etc. — that lead to success. With so much opportunity available in today’s global markets, it’s not that hard to craft a winning strategy. It’s the combination of focusing on the right things and getting them done every day that separates the winners from those chasing the winners. Balancing the big picture with the details ensures that you’re not just running, you’re running in the right direction.

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