One of my joys is getting to talk with the young leaders I work with and teach about how they build their careers and grow their influence. Likely the most common question I get from them is about how one goes about learning how to build strategy. While strategic planning is one of the most importance competencies to grow it is not one that comes fully formed to a person. Good strategic planning, like most skills, starts with the strong execution of fundamentals. The fundamentals in planning strategy are good decision-making skills. The ability to make good and sound decisions in smaller matters becomes the flywheel for larger strategic matters.

If we boil it down to the question of good decision-making there are a variety of methodologies out there to guide us. One of the most well-known ones is known as the OODA Loop. While its origins are in the military it is widely applicable to most anything in life. It involves the four following steps:

Observe: This is an overall assessment of the current state. It involves questioning what the problem truly is, does it really need to be solved, and an initial overall assessment of if the stress of the change brings a tangible result that is worth it.

Orient: This is stage where you begin to map out pathways. It is a good look at the current state and the desired future state. The funnel narrows a bit here in that action will be taken and assessments begin as to potential ways to make it happen.

Decide: This is the stage where possible paths are weighed on their merit, compared against the forces of culture/environment/resistance and such. A plan of action is chosen that best fits the chances of getting the desired result.

Act: This is where you follow the plan. Monitor the unknowns and adapt as necessary. Then, start the loop again at Observe for quality assurance.

The beauty in this process is the intuitive simplicity in the progression of the steps. Now, as we have all learned in life, few things are simple and the unknowns always are potential pitfalls. The overall framework, however, is sound and when used as an ongoing discipline for decision-making will naturally begin to expand into a larger framework for developing strategies. The pieces are there, it is just acted on in a larger scale.

While this framework seems deceptively simple the reason why it works is because it is not just the “OA” (Observe then Act) process. Far too many decisions faultily are made 1) from a knee jerk/untested observation and 2) out of one’s own biases. In other words, we fall into the trap of thinking we have it all figured out so we jump too quickly to solutions. The magic of the OODA process isn’t in its complexity, it comes from the fact it slows everyone down enough to make sure the right resources are going toward solving the right problem is the right ways. A steady practice of this will develop into a strong competency of strategic planning and help you to grow your influence.