These days some people in leadership and management positions are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They have not a clue of where they are going and what they should be focused on. Still, they are very busy and very intense.
The best middle managers I have meet are the exact opposite. They are grounded and they are clear. They know where they are going and they know what are their priorities. This happens because they are clear about the connection between strategic direction and day to day operations.
In the world of operations, good managers are focused on their existing customer base and they communicate clearly to their front line service supervisors and employees about what needs to be done when it comes to product delivery and service support. They also make sure the supply chain is focused on supporting the sales force and the on-time delivery of products. They know they need to consistently improve what already exists as this is the cash generating part of the business.
Between managing the current budget and resources, these managers improve behaviors related to production and service delivery. This may involve the development of better skills, structure, goals, and systems in order to improve the ways we serve existing customers. This is the sole focus of day to day work.
On the other hand, they can also help prepare the organization for the market of tomorrow, i.e. the strategic direction. Here, as much as possible, they assist in on-boarding the next generation of high growth opportunities that are already in the R&D pipeline. They also focus on closing the gaps between current competitive strengths and tomorrow’s competitive requirements. Building new core competencies in alignment with the strategic direction is important work.
One way they manage the challenge of day to day operations vs. strategic level work is their ability to clarify priorities. Many years ago, the late Stephen Covey wrote a book called First Things First. In it, he offered a successful approach to time management which described a framework for prioritizing work that is aimed at long-term goals, at the expense of tasks that appear to be urgent, but are in fact less important. In his four square model, classifying tasks as urgent and non-urgent is on one axis, and important or non-important is on the other axis. His quadrant 2 has the items that are non-urgent but important. These are the ones he believes we are likely to neglect; but, should focus on to achieve effectiveness. Here is a link for more details about this approach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things_First_(book)
When we as managers are clear about the connection between day to day operations and strategic direction, then we can be more effective and efficient in all we do.