• Michael Weinstock

The Career Canvas (1 - Operative or Strategist)

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

The first think we're going to look at is whether you believe you will want to work in an Operative role (carrying out everyday work, working on deliveries et.c.) or if you rather would want to work in a Strategic role (planning, leading, making business critical decisions et.c.). Let's take a look as these two opposites, and on some choices that you may make:

Operative Level

In the sense of the word, someone who works in a purely Operative role will only be working with the organisations day-to-day activities. For example, by working on the delivery of the goods that the organisation sells. Someone working on an Operative level can be an employee or a consultant, but can't be said to be a middle manager or upper level manager. It's basically someone who works on the ground floor, someone who gets the work done, rather than strategising and taking big or small decisions. If you're someone who wants to immerse themselves in their craft but isn't at all comfortable with taking decisions or leading others, you might want to communicate that you would prefer to work purely on the Operative level.

Operative Level, bordering on Tactical Level

If you want to work in a mostly Operative role, but wouldn't mind for example to take part in making some in-the-moment decisions as you carry out your day-to-day work, you might instead want to communicate that you would prefer to mostly work on the Operative level, but that you also want to touch upon the Tactical level. For example, you could say that you're interested in taking a very active role in how the day-to-day work is carried out. Or, you could make it known that you're the kind of candidate who feels that it is "better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission", meaning that you're not afraid to step up and take some decisions when needed ( for example in order to have your teams work move forward instead of be held up) since most of those decisions are bound to be good ones, which are bound to outweigh the few bad decisions you will take.

Tactical Level

A person who doesn't work hands-on with the delivery or day-to-day productive work, but who also isn't involved in the big decisions that decides the long-term future of the organisation, can be said to work purely on the Tactical level. To me, this is the level of the Middle-manager. It is a position that is characterised by ´facing pressure both from above and below´. On the one hand, middle-managers needs to make sure that the Operative staff below them are happy (for example if they are leading a team or a department) and on the other hand they need to make sure that the upper management that they report to are happy with the results they deliver. A purely tactical role might be the choice for you if you for example want to experience having a leadership position in a larger organisation.

Strategic Level, bordering on Tactical Level

If you want to work in a Strategic role, but you feel a need to keep your ear to the ground and engage in the day-to-day work at some times, for example if a tactical situation requires it, you could chose to communicate just that. For example, you could make it clear that if there is a situation on the floor where a delivery being about to miss its deadline, you would have no problem to step in and help out by doing some hands-on crisis management, in order to put the project back on course. In this way, you can for example show that you are someone who prefers to work closely with the staff on the Operative and Tactical levels, and who is wont to roll up their sleeves, as opposed to put on airs.

Strategic Level

A Person who works in a purely Strategic role will by definition never step down to interfere hands-on with the day-to-day work. If working exclusively with strategy is your choice, then you can communicate that this is what you have in mind. For example, if a delivery is about to become overdue, someone in a purely Strategic role will not themselves attempt to chip in to help finish it on time. Instead, they might allow for those on the Tactical or Operative level to bring in a new hire or a temporary worker in order to put out the fire. Doing so will allow the Strategist to keep spending all of their time doing work on the Strategic level, such as bringing in new clients or projects, or creating new partnerships that are vital for the long-term survival of the organisation. In this way, you are showing that you are a person who is ready to make the hard decisions and who won't get side-tracked from doing what they're supposed to under pressure.

Starting at the Operative Level, moving on to the Tactical Level later...

On top of the Operative, Tactical and Strategic dimensions, you might also want to consider the dimension of Time. For example, it could be that you're a new practitioner and want to work in an Operative role now, but feel that it would be very interesting to climb the ladder and work in a Tactical role in the future. In that case you might want to communicate that you wish to start working in an Operative role, until you have learned the ropes. And that you then, later - when you know the ins-and-outs of the job - believe that you will be ready to move on to a Tactical role. Where you for example get to have more responsibility and get to lead a small team.

...and finally ending on the Strategic Level

If you plan to stop at a Tactical level, and remain there, then that should be absolutely doable, since there is a lot of demand for competent middle-managers in organisations. If that is your plan, then that is what you should communicate. But if you rather feel that you would want to continue to climb the ladder, you could instead communicate that that you believe you would be interested in going all the way. In short, you could add to your narrative that you believe that after you had worked on the Tactical level for a few years, and had proven to be a competent mid-level leader, you would then be interested in moving on to a Strategic role. Where you, for example, would get to lead a larger team, or be the person ultimately in charge of something like a department, a product line, or a daughter company.

If you do plan on going all the way from Operative level to Strategic level, it might be a good idea for you to do some research to try to find out how many years this usually takes in an organisation such as the one you are looking to join. Then you'll be able to present a realistic plan for what you have in mind, which will maximise your credibility as you're communicating this dream of yours to the world.

It might feel like you're taking the long way to get to your goal - as opposed to instead spending the time studying management or leadership at a high level - but starting from the bottom will both give you with hands-on experience and skills, while at the same time providing you with a salary, so it's a pretty good deal for you. It's also a good deal for the organisation, as it happens, since you in the end will be a Strategist who will know every in-and-out of the business, and who will easily be able to connect to the people on the Tactical and Operative level, having been in their shoes yourself.

Trainee Programmes

In fact, larger organisations usually even have what are called `Trainee Programmes`, which candidates - often at the graduate level - can be accepted into. These programmes allow the company to groom talents for higher positions, often by working in several different offices or roles over just a few months or a few years, while at the same time receiving training and a salary on the trainee level.

Do the Exercise!

Take a few minutes, and then try to make your own choice when it comes to the above options. Write your choice down in the field in the Career Canvas marked "Operative or Strategist". If nothing else, just write down which choice feels the most right for you at this moment. For example:"In my career, I would like to work on the Operative level, at least at first".

Example texts:

"I want to work in a purely Operative role. I'm very good with machines, but less good with people, so my plan is to leave the management and decision-making to those who specialise in those things, and just focus on my strength which is to make high-quality deliveries on time".

"I want my work to mostly consist of working operationally to make deliveries, according to instructions and guidelines that I get from higher up. But I do feel confident taking some tactical decisions when it would be needed, and will do so rather than having to pause the work to wait for further instruction."

"I want my work to mostly consist of working strategically, to be in charge of planning, policy making, leading others and taking business-critical decisions. But I don't mind getting my hands dirty if there is a problem or a conflict that interferes with a delivery."

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