Personal Strategy Deployment

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  A question most of us have probably been asked during a job interview.  I have generally answered something along the lines “Doing work as (insert role I’m applying for) as a real expert ready for the next level of leadership at (insert organization)”…. Great, now tell me about a time when…. 

How many of us have put thought into answering actually answering that question for ourselves?  Most of us (I plead guilty to this) barely have a plan for dinner tonight.  If we have thought about where we want to be in “5 years” we may say: “Retired, drinking Mai Tais on the beach”, “Married and raising wonderful children”, “At the next rank/level of promotion”, “completing an Iron Man triathlon”, etc. (I use 5 years arbitrarily- the following concepts can be applied to any duration)

Knowing the answer is a great start but:

What we need is a detailed action plan to get us from A (where we are today) to B (where we see ourselves in 5 years)

Enter Strategy Deployment.  Strategy deployment is a concept used by many large corporations as well as the US Military (as a “strategic master plan”).  The general concept of Strategy Deployment is to align the front lines (Soldiers, nurses, cashiers, whatever) to the goals of the CEO or president of an organization.  So, when the CEO of Southwest Airlines set the intention of being a fun, low cost airline they hired and trained fun-loving flight attendants.  If they said they wanted to be a fun, low cost airlines but hired former TSA agents to be flight attendants, well, they probably wouldn’t achieve their goal because the hiring authorities didn’t align their work to the main goal. 

Example Air Force strategic master plan

It’s not a CEO saying a company is going to be fun and low cost that makes it happen, it’s the front-line staff each taking tiny actions everyday that gets it there.  It’s every joke the flight attendants tell during the safety brief, each free drink they sneak you, and each smile you get from the gate to disembarking that makes the Airline what it is.  

The same applies to us.  We can’t just say we are going to be financially independent or run a marathon.  We need to have a plan and break it down into actionable steps: I’m going to save 20% of every paycheck or I’m going to run 5 miles everyday for the next 3 months for example.  This is why I’ve adapted the concept of Strategy Deployment for personal use.    

The first step in personal strategy deployment is to create your Vision and Mission statements, the proverbial “where do you see yourself in 5 years”.  The value of these statements is the role they can serve as an unbiased judge when making any decision.  For example, Southwest has a goal of being low cost, so when customers requested salads be served on flights all they had to do was ask “will this help us be low cost?” – the answer was no, hence no salads on Southwest flights.     

The difference between the two is your vision statement will be more long term and the mission statement short term.  When thinking about a vision statement a useful exercise is what would you want your eulogy to say?  For example: “They were such a great person, always laughing, would give you the shirt of their back, and a what wonderful painter…they could paint an entire apartment in an afternoon!”.  We could translate this into a vision statement along the lines of “to be a happy and generous person to everyone I encounter, always”.  The vision statement can be more subjective and touchy-feely.  It acts as the compass in our life – pointing us generally in the direction we want to go. 

If the vision statement is our compass, then the mission statement is our map.  It is the prescriptive guide to tell us if a certain path or decision will get us where we want to go more explicitly.  What will it take to be the person in our vision statement?  For the example above we might have a mission statement “to achieve financial independence by age 40”.  I’ve concluded that if I can remove the obligation of working from my life that I’ll be able to focus on things that bring me joy and able to be generous with my time. 

Our Vision statement can be changed over the years as we and our circumstances change; we should review it periodically.  The mission statement will definitely change; as we accomplish our missions or our vision adjusts.  The creation of these two sentences will likely be extremely difficult and will take some thought and soul searching, but it is well worth the effort to ensure we don’t go through life only to have become someone we never intended to be.    

To further break it down We’ll look at our life goals in the terms of 5 pillars.  This will help us narrow down what is important to us and allow us to focus and distribute our efforts so we can improve at an even and sustainable pace.  The five pillars of personal strategy deployment are (in order of impact):

  1. Contemplation
  2. Constitution
  3. Community
  4. Craft
  5. Coin

I borrowed the mnemonic of using all “C”s from one of my favorite authors and thinkers Cal Newport.  It is interesting we had come up with nearly identical concepts with different titles.  I added coin as a 5th category because I believe finance is an important factor in achieving your vision. 

I listed these in order of impact because generally it will be easier to achieve in subsequent pillars if you have stability in the higher ones.  But the process is also cyclical.  If you are financially stable it is easier to focus on improving your health and happiness.  Not a hard and fast rule -just a general guideline.  Let’s break them down:

Contemplation: While the most important pillar, this is also the most difficult to define and act on.  I summarize this as matters of the mind and spirit.  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to begin: Do you have purpose in life?  How much joy do you feel in your daily life?  How much time do you set aside to have fun or just relax?  This is the pillar where your vision statement will be a factor- what are you doing to achieve it.  An example of a subject I put into this pillar is meditation.  If you study mediation- the claims of how it will help you would fall into this category.  I recommend the work by Sam Harris to learn more.    

What makes us happy will vary wildly from person to person so take the time to think about what makes you happy and more importantly what doesn’t.  Removing things that bring negative emotions to your life will be more effective in your overall happiness than adding more positive things.  The exercise I have used and recommend is Tim Ferriss’s Past year in review.  Read it, try it, be happier – no need to wait for the new year. 

It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

—Brother David Steindl-Rast

Another practice I believe is gratitude.  I’m not going to go in depth on this topic, there are hundreds of great books on the subject and I’m no expert.  However, the one technique that works well for me is Perspective.  Any time I feel ungrateful for something (my job for example) I try to change my perspective to compare it to a time in my life where I would have actually been grateful for what I have now.  For example, I’m staying in Air Force lodging at the moment and have to share a bathroom with the room next door.  I found myself annoyed when I found out I was getting a neighbor and would have the extra tedious work and likelihood of accidently being locked out of the bathroom.  Then I remembered back to my days in the Army and how many years I spent sharing a bathroom with 40 other dudes or having to go outside into 100+ degrees to use a porta potty in Iraq.  While the current situation still isn’t ideal, I realize it’s not so bad and avoid the mental complaining. 

Constitution: This pillar can be summarized as physical health.  Right now health for me is about having a long quality of life.  Many of you will be striving for early retirement through financial independence (if not, please consider it).  None of us want to retire early so we can die early.  We want more time with the freedom to do the activities that will bring meaning to our lives. 

It only makes sense that we would want to extend our retirement on both ends, save money and retire sooner and staying healthy so we can live longer.  The goal is not to spend 30 years being spoon fed thickened liquids in a nursing home but traveling, dancing, playing with great-great grandchildren until the day we die.  Dr. Peter Atilla – a leading researcher on longevity has come up with the concept of “Centenarian Olympics” – the things he’d like to be able to do when 100 years old.  Examples include; lift a carry on into an overhead bin on a plane and pick up a toddler.  He then works backwards to determine what he would have to do at his current age to maintain those abilities through the ages (overhead lift 100lbs or squat 200lbs for example). 

We are all at very different places with our physical health and there is no one prescriptive solution.  The idea is to think about where you are at now and where you want to be and the steps you need to take daily to get there. 

Community:  This pillar is all about your relationships – your friends and family.  Research has shown that having good social interaction is key to a long life.  How are your relationships with your significant other, family, friends, and community at large?  Do you have these relationships?  How do you feel when you spend time with them?  What’s your reaction when you get a call or text from them? 

You may have to make some drastic changes in this category.  Upon deep reflection you may find your friends aren’t helping you achieve your goals and you don’t actually enjoy your time with them.  You may dread phone calls from family members.  Your relationship might be defined as a business partnership more than anything else. 

I can’t offer solutions to these situations for you.  Take time to reflect and research on what you can do for your situation.  However, one tool I have found personally helpful is the 5 love languages.  Reading this book was one of those real eye-opening experiences where I thought “wow, everything makes so much sense now”.  It’s now the book I gift the most. 

I also put volunteerism into this category.  Reflect on if or how you donate your time and skills to a cause you believe in. 

Craft:  What are you doing to enhance your skills?  This applies to both your work and quality leisure.  What skills are you learning to become better at your job or to move towards the job you want?  What are you learning or doing to improve how you spend your leisure time?  Examples of this fall more along the lines of taking painting classes or spending XX hours on wood working – not how many hours you can spend watching Netflix.  I’ll dive deeper into this topic in many, many future posts.

Coin:  How are you progressing toward achieving your financial goals?  What are your financial goals?  There are now 1,000s of blogs and books on the topic so figure out what is important to you and work towards that.  I will recommend it involves these three things:

  1. Track your spending
  2. Spend less than you earn
  3. Save the difference

And that’s it for personal strategic planning.  Thinking about where you are, where you want to be, and creating a plan in these five pillars will enhance your quality of life.  I’ve really only covered the first two here but I’ll follow up with the more tactical approach to creating your plan.  Here’s a generic example of how it might play out:

I just got a raise at work because I completed this certificate program thanks to the support from my spouse and friends with whom I was able to spend time doing fun activities with because I’m feeling healthy thanks to the time I spent thinking about where I want to be in life with the time I used to spend worrying about paying my bills. 

In my next article I’ll dive deeper into the next steps of actually deploying your plan to achieve what you have come up with in these exercises. 

*I’m not affiliated with any of the links in this article.  They are people and products I’m happy to share to benefit humanity. 

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