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The Change Designs Blog is a collection of insights, personal stories and real life experiences from people working in organizations. In this blog you will find real life stories depicting magical experiences and struggles, where the truth is richer, stranger and more practical than any theory or model. If you've ever wanted to read the diary of a leader, strategist, change agent, consultant, facilitator or a coach, or you are grappling with problems at work, then you will enjoy reading this practical blog.

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Moving from an operational role to a strategic role

Ruth Tearle - Friday, December 23, 2016

One of the biggest frustrations many leaders face, is being told that they are not strategic enough. Many ask: What does it mean to be strategic? How does this differ from the work they currently do? 

This post describes what you need to know as a leader in order to move from an operational role to a strategic role.

When you move from operational work to strategic work, the biggest difference is one of structure. In an operational job, you are given structure. You can either follow what worked before in your organization, or what the others in your industry are doing today. In a strategic role, you take a leadership position. You need to create your own future. Your own structure. Your own role. 

The table below shows some of the differences between an operational and a strategic role.


Structured known work of today
Work associated with crafting or bringing about a future.
Focus on present day issues. e.g. What brings in today's money. Focus on creating a desired future. e.g. What will bring in tomorrow's money.
Dealing with today's issues which are known. We focus on habits, we can be professional. We use our expertise. Creating the future - which is unknown and risky. This usually involves learning.
Products, services, systems and processes, for satisfying today’s customers. Products, services, systems, processes for delighting the customers of the future.
Our comfort zone. What we already know. We copy industry standards.  New projects aimed at either creating a different future, or helping our organization to achieve its strategy - a strategy that is different from today. This often involves doing work that has never been done before.
The work is structured by others. Often know as management. You create your own structure. You create your own role. This role should be based on helping the organization to be successful in the future. This is leadership in action.


Practical things to do as you move to a strategic role.

What will you do to help your organization be successful in the future?

You will be judged on the contribution you make to helping the organization either prepare for its future, or achieve its future strategy. To do this, you need to understand the organization's business and its strategy.

1. Read as much as you can find about your company's strategy and business.


  • Your organization's strategic plans or vision documents.
  • Your organization's annual report.
  • Any industry research showing new trends in your industry.
  • Any customer research showing changing customer trends or expectations.
  • The strategies of key divisions or strategic business units within your organization.
  • Ensure you understand how your organization makes its profits and how every area in the organization contributes to the organization's success.

2. Interview business leaders in your organization - such as the CEO and leaders of divisions or business units.

Ask them:

  • To describe how they see the future of the organization or their division. What are their goals or strategies for the year?
  • What could prevent them from achieving their vision or dream of the future.
  • How do they think you and your department could support them in achieving their vision, or reducing the barriers that could prevent them from achieving their vision.

3. How can you contribute to your organization being successful in the future.

What will you and your unit or department do to:

  • Help your organization be successful in the future?
  • Help your CEO and leaders of business units to achieve their goals and strategies?
  • Help your CEO to and leaders of business units to deal with barriers that could prevent them from achieving their goals.

If you can answer this question clearly - without using jargon, then you will be perceived as strategic.

4. Remember to continually develop your strategic ability.


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