All Posts by Christy Johnson

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The Importance of Conducting a Retrospective on Your Business Plans

By Christy Johnson

The Importance of Conducting a Retrospective

The biggest challenge for executives at the end or start of a new cycle isn’t creating a new business plan – but socializing it, resourcing it, and formally closing your old one.

While rudimentary, it helps me to go back to basics. Do a quick mental checklist. Have you…

  1. Gotten your stakeholders together to review your new plans, make revisions, and gain buy-in from leaders?
  2. Properly resourced your plans by assigning project managers? Do they know who they are and what they’re responsible for?
  3. Put operational or transformational plans in place to help acquire resources or install processes you don’t already have?
  4. Reviewed your previous successes, cancellations, and continuations?
  5. Talked about what worked and didn’t work last planning cycle, and why?
  6. Made a final, clean edit of your plans with all the above in mind and delivered it to your organization?

This is stuff we all know, but basic steps sometimes get lost in higher-level happenings. This happens to everyone.

Here’s a 6-minute read to help do a quick scan of whether or not you’re ready to execute on your new strategies.

Why It’s Really, Really Important to Look Back at the Past

It’s tempting to just hit the ground running with completely fresh plans. But without a clear understanding of your starting point, you may be headed in the wrong direction.

All too often, we forget to analyze previous work and fall victim to the Planning Fallacy. It’s unlikely, albeit optimistic, that you’ll be able to accomplish the same type of project with fewer resources or in less time. Analyze your metrics from the past to make sure you’ve realistically budgeted for your new plan.

Set aside time now – if you haven’t already – to review your plans. Build custom dashboards and reports to easily see the successes and failures across your enterprise from the previous planning cycle. Work to highlight how those challenges and victories will impact your upcoming plans, and how they might alter the vision you’ve developed for the future.

The final step? Go through each plan item and decide – close out? cancel? carry forward/continue? or create new? One of our customer success managers, Elise Ramia, wrote an article on the importance of a formal plan close-out and how to do it.

Resourcing is More than Just Budget

After closing out past projects, you’re still not quite ready to execute your new ones. Have you resourced your plans?

Your enterprise may have already approved budgets, but remember that resources needed to execute your plans go beyond dollars.

Yes, there’s payment involved in skill-building, hiring, equipment, etc., but two things that often get forgotten are free: making sure 1) you have a transformation plan to roll out new processes, and 2) the people you’ve chosen to lead initiatives are appropriately assigned and allocated according to realistic timelines.

In your plan, is there a major process change that needs to take place in order to achieve your organization’s goals? This requires a separate plan. What’s more, remember there are two prongs to change management – the process and the people. Engage your HR and Operations teams in your transformation plan to manage change adoption from the employee side as well as the business side.

When you’re building transformation-capable teams and choosing leaders to execute initiatives, accountability and alignment are essential. Putting someone’s name in a cell next to a plan item on a spreadsheet won’t do it. Gain managers’ buy-in by discussing responsibilities and getting their agreement on each project to create a culture of commitment to execution.

Socialize Your Plans to Get Real Buy-In

Once you’ve reviewed your old plan and budgeted all your resources, remember to take your time to socialize your plan effectively. Don’t just email out a slide deck and call it done. (Seriously, don’t do it!!!)

Create an engaging way for employees to learn about your new plans directly from your Executive Leadership Team. Whether you roll out your finalized plans in a Town Hall meeting with a Q&A, a series of cross-functional lunch & learns, one-on-one water cooler conversations, after-hours events, or likely some combination of these – the goal is to get people talking. Allow people from other teams to give new perspectives, share, and ask questions. The togetherness will help create ownership across your company.

These conversations will help highlight your change champions, as well as your resistors. Check in regularly during implementation to reinforce your goals and keep a pulse on adoption. If you already have a set cadence to regularly review status updates and other metrics, use these check-ins to also survey employees to test how they’re feeling about change management. Asking for feedback along the way will keep your plans top-of-mind and may reveal things that were missed.

The main thing to keep in mind about socializing your plans is to ensure the message you’re delivering is consistent and supported by your executive leadership team. The way you discuss your new plans with each group will be specifically tailored to describe how their work rolls up to support bigger initiatives, but your enterprise goals should be emphasized the same way across the board. Each team should understand how much and how long they’ll be affected by any change, as well as be aware of other change initiatives that are running parallel or intersect.

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Reviewing past plans, properly resourcing, and effectively socializing plans are the most overlooked potential pitfalls when creating new strategies. Looking back can provide as much information as looking ahead and should not be taken lightly. Aligning your team to initiatives and processes that have been vetted through historical data and accurate resourcing will amplify your success in your new planning cycle.

Balancing Strategy, Agility, Operational Excellence, and Innovative Transformation

By Christy Johnson

Balancing Strategy, Agility, Operational Excellence, and Innovative Transformation

Our strategies do – and should – constantly change. But does your team get discouraged about putting a plan down on paper, because they feel like it’s just going to change direction in 6 months?

A lot of our customers look to us for advice about how to help their teams feel aligned and dedicated to achieving targets without feeling like they’re pulling the rug out from under them with every short-term sprint.

It’s a fine line to walk between being responsive, but also creating organization-wide commitment, understanding, and buy-in to reach goals.

It’s the balancing act between 1) organizational agility, 2) operational excellence, and 3) holistic resource allocation. You need to be able to do all three simultaneously and effectively to propel your organization forward, while keeping your employees aligned and in tune with company goals.

As AchieveIt helps more and more organizations execute faster with better results, I’m exposed to best practices from every industry, use case, and company size. Unfortunately, the variance in just this sample size proves there’s no one solution that works for absolutely every team. But there are some common threads that I see, that we at AchieveIt also practice.

Organizational Agility Doesn’t Mean Foregoing Strategy

Borrowed from primarily software development teams, the idea of “agile” business tactics focus on rallying members around tangible goals. While your scrum master may be gritting their teeth since we’re not talking about the pure Agile Methodology, organizations have adapted the idea to implement smaller wins along the way to maintain momentum across a larger plan.

That’s the thing – shorter term goals should never replace the importance of an overarching strategy. An article in HBR talks about fluid strategy in terms of the union between two concepts: vision and improvisation.

“Vision incorporates the long-term, if not permanent, purpose and principles of an organization, which serves as the north star for all its actions. Improvisation suggests a fundamental openness and flexibility at the tactical level – the willingness to explore, experiment, and iterate. When you incorporate both into strategy creation, it becomes a transformative event rather than a long-winded process; it’s a thick experience rather than a thorough exercise.”

So yes – companies benefit from setting up sprints, but they should always align to and support an overarching plan. Our own Joe Krause’s article explains how to be protective of your plan without losing the ability to improvise.

Operational Excellence Must Be Maintained Alongside Innovation

A lot of times, the first thing we do when our professional services team goes into an organization is sort out their strategies from their operational plans. These two kinds of plans often get muddled in reality, even though we understand their differences conceptually (here’s how to tell them apart).

What I see as the key to being able to remain agile and responsive, is having tight processes. It’s so important to separate innovative plans from plans that help you do what you already do (but better). They should be executed and measured apart from one another.

Both are necessary to move forward, but you can’t dedicate all your time to one and not the other; pure innovation has no process, and pure perfection has no frame-breaking outcomes (read about that balance here).

Wholistic Resource Allocation Helps You De-Dupe Efforts

This may sound rudimentary, but I cannot emphasize enough what so many organizations are missing – cross-plan visibility.

When you’re looking at plans and results in separate systems, it’s impossible to connect where and how initiatives may be related, where work or resources might be duplicated, or how multiple efforts are contributing to a single goal. Work may be repeated, budgets double-dipped, and time lost if you can’t see how all plan items roll up to support your company’s vision.

Organizations that are able to gain this high-level insight into the way their plans are progressing find it easier to execute equally on the constant betterment of their processes, as well as new innovative strategies. And, because they have dashboards that show how all these plans work together, are able to make better, faster, more-informed decisions about how and when to pivot.

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If your team needs help balancing agile business practices with operational excellence and distributing resources, call us so we can talk about what your best practices are and how AchieveIt can make your life easier.

Using a Growth Mindset to Lead Change Management

By Christy Johnson

Using a Growth Mindset to Lead Change Management

I’ve been thinking a lot about business transformation and growth in the months since my freshman daughter’s high school orientation.

Instead of focusing on the pressure-inducing checklist our students need to accomplish to ensure they’re college-bound, the school counselor talked us through how to frame learning, goals, and development in these next 4 important years.

She explained the importance of celebrating small victories and measuring goals in terms of growth, instead of pass/fail. This growth mindset is backed by the data of decades of studies. People who are recognized for the value of their work over their natural abilities are more likely to work harder and commit to improvement.

In the spirit of approaching business transformation with a growth mindset, I wanted to share a couple of things to look out for this planning season:

Mindset is Contagious

In a study by Carol Dweck and her team, it was found that whether an organization believed they were either a) limited by the innate skills of their employees, or b) they had a workforce that enjoyed challenges and strived to learn – there was consensus throughout the organization.

Employees from growth-mindset companies are more engaged, innovative, collaborative, and committed to skill development. This is the kind of team you need for business transformation.

The best way to set the course for motivation and buy-in is to make sure your senior-most leadership is publicly invested. Morale moves from the top-down, so you need executives who lead by example.

Practice Patience

Empathetic leaders maintain optimism but balance that positivity with driving urgency. (There’s a great HBR article about this.)

Leaders who are patient remain realistic and open to recognizing change over time. Celebrating success of small improvements gives those with a growth mindset a way to realize the efforts of their hard work and crave more.

Patience also sets the pace for transformation – slow and steady. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right perspective, you can develop an eye for gradual change – over last week, last month, or last year.

Communicate Before, During, and After

Change is scary for most people, so build your communication steps into your plan for transformation. No matter the type of change management you’re leading, expectations management, process training, guided implementation, feedback sessions, and continued monitoring are all necessary parts of your plan.

People don’t inherently resist change when they know what to expect on the other side. You can build momentum by getting everyone’s consensus before the actual switch-over. When it’s all said and done, all contributors feel proud of the final transformed state – and want to do it again.

Monitor Along the Way

The ability to monitor progress as it’s happening is invaluable. Dashboards that show live data as it’s happening is so important. But up-to-date reports are just half the battle.

Try to remember that your metrics are only part of the picture; the more insight you can get into how projects are progressing will only help you amplify your ability to make agile, informed decisions. Understanding the multi-faceted status of a plan item will help you impact the outcome of your initiatives instead of getting stuck making a list of things to “do better next time” during your retrospective.

Let Us Know If You Need Help

We’re happy to talk to leaders about this process. If your team needs best practices for sequencing key initiatives, building cross-plan dashboards, or optimizing plans that align resources and tasks to overarching transformation goals, we’ll show you what partnering with AchieveIt could look like for your organization.