I run a strategy day for SMU for various corporate clients… in the morning we discuss what we need to do… the what of strategy development. People are interested and engaged. Its fun. In the afternoon, the strategy turns to the second part of strategy development, implementation. It is not as well received as implementing things, through people, is tough really tough.
A huge problem i see in business today is converting that great idea or the fleeting opportunity into a completed project that delivers what it was supposed to. It seems to be the biggest source of frustration I deal with when talking with executives.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, author Peter Bregman discusses how to align everyone in the organization into what they call the “Big Arrow,” so each member of the team is laser focused on performing their role. He works to focus energy and activity arounf a single focus… the Big Arrow
Delivering on strategy is such a challenge, which is why so many strategic plans end up as shelf decorations. As I work with Executives on discussing strategy and formulating strategy, we work on creating a what… the critical ideas to make a difference in their business. And then we work towards implementing the strategy. Typically this involved meetings, and discussions, and inevitably powerpoint presentations, and more discussions, in small groups and in big groups. But Talking about strategy, Bregman says it’s not enough.
“Strategy development and communication are about knowing something, [while] strategy execution is about doing something. And the gap between what you know and what you do is often huge. Add in the necessity of having everyone acting in alignment with each other, and it gets even huger.”
Even at organizations that appear to be well run, people are often working at cross-purposes. It’s easy for employees to stay in their bubbles, working on what they individually deem to be important. It’s more difficult for people to sacrifice their egos a bit and collaborate effectively.
Mr. Bregman describes his solution to strategy execution as “The Big Arrow Process”.
The ‘Big Arrow’ is a strategy or objective that your organization needs to implement in order to meet its goals. To test if something qualifies as a Big Arrow, he asks the following questions:
If the answers are yes, then the following process can be applied to the project. A critical element is to narrow the focus to the most important idea. Don’t attempt to do too many things it will not help you. Try to do the most important thing, and once achieved go onto the next most important thing. The learnings from a strategic project can then be applied to other projects, so that the entire organization learns how to succeed in this key task.
What behaviours support action
Having identified and been crystal clear about describing the most important strategy you need to also be crystal clear about the behaviour that will support achievement of this strategy. And the behaviours that will inhibit or prevent achievement.
Step #1 – Identify the Highest-Impact People
If this is a key project, then the people who are most essential to driving its success need to be identified and assigned to the strategy implementation team. In the author’s words, “…you want to focus your efforts and resources on the people who will have the most impact on the Big Arrow… those whose roles were core to the project, had organizational authority, and who were highly networked.”
Step #2 – Determine What They Should Focus On- the LEVERS
Senior leadership needs to help the team determine their:
Strategy execution needs to be laser-focused. Simplicity requires that we make choices. Then we make that one thing happen.
Step #3 – Hold Laser-Focused Coaching Sessions
Once we have ensured the right people have the right focus, coach them in laser-focused, 30-minute one-on-one sessions. This is the time where you enable your high impact people are coached to focus on making clear headway on their key contribution to the strategy implementation
This is the key activity of this entire process, building on clearly-defined goals and behaviours and deciding what success looks like. Regularly-scheduled coaching sessions should be designed not to correct behaviour, not to find out what was wrong or whom to blame, but to move the project forward. Even high-performers need coaching. They need to know how to handle situations, and they need someone to clear the path for them.
This training focused behaviour that can apply to any project team, strategic or not.
Step #4 – Collect and Share Data
Good coaching is based on facts, not opinions. The facts are binary – something happened, or it didn’t. If it happened, learn what contributed to that. If it didn’t happen, learn what prevented that. Collecting data needs to identify the real obstacles preventing your most valuable people from driving the company’s most important priorities forward. That data then needs to be presented clearly to all involved.
Step #5 – Amplify Performance
Performers get things done. Leaders help performers amplify what they can do to create outsized results. Coaches learn how to pull results out of people beyond what they may have thought possible.
Coaches address the typical challenges people struggle with when executing strategy:
Your performers want to be developed, one of the key reasons the people you want on your teams stay with you. While these five steps are designed for implementing strategic projects, they can be easily modelled for the entire organization to learn to effectively manage the everyday projects that are the lifeblood of a company.
Using this process, your clarity and alignment behind your strategic focus can do what you need it to do for your organization. A Projects success is the result of clear objectives, management communication, leadership, coaching, organization, and discipline. Investing time and energy into successful projects is key to the success of most organizations translating the perfect plan into moving the business forward.