Strategic vs. Operational

I’ve been throwing the words strategic vs. operational around in my brain for a little while now.  Of course I’ve known the words for as long as I can remember, but joining my first Board has given the words a new context.  I sit on my alma mater’s Alumni Association Board of Directors.  I’ve been on the board for almost two years now, but this is my first year as a Committee Chair.  I’m honoured to have the position, but I can tell you this: I had no idea how much work it would be.

I didn’t think it was a figurehead position by any means, and I knew it would be a commitment, but what I don’t think I realized is what kind of work it would be.  I’m known among colleagues for my organizational skills; I’m obsessive about my calendar, I’m completely dependent on Outlook’s task functionalities, I keep dozens of to do lists at any given time… you get the picture.  Now that I know the terms, I would call myself an operational gal.

As such, I don’t really think of myself as a person who naturally thinks strategically.  I can carry out a strategy like no one’s business, but I tend to get caught up in details and am not usually thinking of the big picture.  That’s not to say that I can’t, or don’t, but if it were a muscle, mine would be a bit flabby, whereas my operational muscle is veiny and bulging… but I digress…

The goal of the Board I sit on, as is the case with most Boards, I gather, is to be more strategic and less operational.  That makes perfect sense.  There is an office at the university that does the operational stuff; our job is to develop strategies to support the office in their work and help them to do better.  They are staff, whereas we are a representation of the alumni community.  We are there to see to it that the needs of the alumni are met.  That is done through strategy, and then our strategy is carried out operationally by the staff.  On top of all that, it means that our job is best done through thought and discussion, and so our volunteer position isn’t a lot of work on top of our actual jobs.

So it should be easy enough, right???  Well… not when your strength is in operations.  But, that’s what makes the experience of being on a Board so great for me.  I am exercising my flabby strategic muscles.  Here’s an example of me putting strategic thinking to use:

A staff member at the university developed an excellent social media plan and some of the Board’s budget may be used to implement his plan.  He needs to make a budget proposal and, as Chair of the Communications Committee, it is my job to present this plan to the Board with him.  Thinking about the actual presentation, I started thinking about the daunting task ahead of me: I need to put together a presentation about a plan that I didn’t write.  But then I put on the operational brakes…

…my job isn’t to write and format the PowerPoint presentation.  My job is to think strategically about the best way to present it.  What information is relevant to the Board?  What will they want to know?  What should we focus on?  What are the most important points?

This is my job as a Board member and a Chair.  I can focus on operations in my work as a fundraiser, but as a Board member: it’s all about strategy.

I can feel the growth happening, and I love it!

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