Post by Patricia Hewitt, contributing Women On Business writer
Congratulations for staying with the plan and welcome to your future! This final post in my strategic planning series (follow the links to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) is dedicated to strategy execution best practices, and no – this is not about project management. Ouch! No offense to all the great PMI folks out there, but successfully delivering strategies into the market has more to do with commitment, accountability, and communication than Gantt charts.
So, now that I’ve got at least one segment of your staff in a foul mood, let’s discuss what it takes to keep your initiatives on track. First, let’s talk about marketing your solution inside your organization. If you haven’t considered using your marketing team to create internal communications than you may be missing a large part of their value to your organization. Before one project task is written down, you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. And here’s where I’m going to upset some other people on your team, but not all your managers, supervisors, and team leaders are great communicators.
Think about when you were a kid and you played the game “Telephone”. In this game, one person whispers a secret in another person’s ear, such as “I heard that Jim took Sally to the movies on Saturday night.” That person whispers to another person and so on. By the time the last person in the chain gets the information it sounds like this, “I heard that Jim married Sally and they have four children who are all going to be in the movies.” That’s a different message!
Internal communications are a lot like this, and so creating a consistent internal communication plan, holding group meetings to explain the initiative, and making this information available, as part of your “touch base” strategy will ensure that your entire team hears the same message. What’s a touch base strategy? Glad you asked. That’s the term I like to use in place of milestones. A milestone is connected to a project and suggests that some important point in the project has been arrived at. When you touch base, it means that you’re checking in and anyone connected with your strategy initiative can do that. This means that as part of your process, you define various bases for your team to check back with or check on.
For example, on your internal website, create a Touch Base page that contains your initiative objective, internal communication materials, and other things like a progress meter or congratulatory notes from senior management or kudos from team members. If you don’t have a website, define an area where a bulletin board can be posted that is dedicated to your project. The important point is to keep consistent information flowing to your entire team.
Next let’s talk about accountability. In your planning, you defined individuals who are accountable for various aspects of executing your initiative. Hold them to it. It’s just that simple. I have been roundly criticized on occasion for being a tough task master, but I have always believed that acceptance of responsibility is not to be taken lightly. No matter how busy you are, make time to touch base with these individuals on a regular basis. This is the part of execution where the commitment of senior leadership is of critical importance. If your team doesn’t think you’re engaged with the project, they won’t be engaged, and that disconnect will affect your results all the way down the food chain.
Celebrate your milestones! Ok, so milestones in a project are important and when they are reached successfully, give a big shout out to the team. This is especially important if the project is going on over a long period of time or has hit some rough spots since it serves to remind everyone that what he or she is doing is worthwhile and highly valued. Studies too numerous to quote over many years all affirm the fact that employees who believe they are valued perform better. Don’t hold back – make them feel great about what they’re working on, and they’ll feel great about working on your initiative
In case you haven’t noticed, all this great communication is going one way. Now let’s address the feedback loop. In projects like this, there will always be status reports, update meetings, and executive summaries going on. It’s been my experience that you won’t get your best feedback from any of these. Here’s a true story. At one company I worked for, I was responsible for Client Implementations. We had a very large, complex project going on with a very high profile client. Two weeks before the live date, my project manager came in to tell me that the project was going to be delayed at least two months. I can assure you, that was not a good thing to happen and I learned a very hard lesson, which is to never believe a status report. Listen carefully to your team members are not telling you and give them permission to be worried, concerned or overwhelmed. Invite them to give you feedback and don’t judge them, but instead make adjustments to the process. Remember, they’re only following your lead.
In the past four weeks we’ve covered quite a bit of ground with regards to getting your strategies off the conference room table and into the market. Here’s a quick recap:
- A strategy is a plan of action. Try not to create a good example of a bad idea, and remember that an opportunity is not a strategy.
- Analyze twice (as in measure twice, cut once) and analyze thoroughly. Know as much as possible before you make any decisions.
- Set a timeframe for your Opportunity Analysis phase and stick to it.
- Take your strategic planning session off site and out of the box.
- Consider using a strategy meeting facilitator to keep things on track.
- View your company as the first market for your new initiative and sell it to them.
- Create a communication loop that provides for continual input and honest feedback.
- Look beyond status reports for what’s really happening in a project.
- Celebrate your success.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. More importantly though, I hope you’ve taken away something of value that will make your next strategic initiative an even bigger success.