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Before Breaking Down Silos, Connect Them

By Jonathan Morgan

Before Breaking Down Silos, Connect Them

By Jonathan Morgan


As a testament to effective marketing, the word “silo” has become a feared term in the plan execution world. However, silos are necessary for a growing business to focus and specialize. What many don’t realize is success relies on the way you connect those silos when managing multiple plans. The pay-off? Get the high-level visibility you need to make better decisions.

When Does Tracking Plans in Excel Become a Risk?

It’s no secret that organizations often have projects and data that have been sealed off from each other. Truth is, as organizations grow, it’s actually more impactful to develop expertise in certain areas of the business to maximize efficiency.

The real challenge of siloed work is introduced when needing to report and analyze across plans.

Working in silos can help manage one thing at a time. One project, one plan, one project management spreadsheet or project management dashboard; and the list goes on.

What leaders fail to realize is siloed project management reaches critical mass as additional projects enter the fold.

To make informed decisions, you need the big picture. You need data from every project, not just one. Tracking one singular project quickly turns into tracking metrics from multiple initiatives – which then turns into overwhelming Excel files with 20 tabs and no overall visibility. It becomes impossible to answer the question, “How are we doing overall?”

This is when using Excel to track more than one plan becomes a risk.

Silos Are a Scapegoat, Not the Core Problem

So, who’s the first to blame when problems undoubtably arise? Well of course, everyone’s favorite scapegoat of the moment – those evil silos!

And this is where organizations go wrong. It’s not the silos themselves that cause issues, but how organizations manage the silos.

When goals aren’t achieved, a typical organizational response is an immediate effort to break down silos, not anticipating that even more compartments will be created, just at a different level of the organization.

Imagine, as a department VP, you can’t see the overall breakdown of where each of your managers are on or off track with their initiatives, so you ask them to compile all their high-level data into one report. In turn, each of those managers needs a finite way to track their own team’s plans in greater detail, so they’ll further segment out the project-level work their team is doing in a system separate from how they’re reporting up to you. People need a hierarchy that can be collapsed and expanded so they can see the exact level of information they need to do their daily work.

Instead of storming in and breaking down partitions, find ways to connect those silos across the organization. High-performing organizations use tools that allow them to see all the high-level data they need siphoned off from each major subdivision, while still being able to drill down into details on demand.

3 Ways to Optimize Plan Management

Excel is fine for managing single plans, but when you’ve got multiple processes at stake, you need a better tool. Enabling cross-plan visibility in a single platform is the key ingredient to effectively managing multiple plans to make more informed organizational decisions.

Here are three stepping-stone strategies the highest-performing organizations employ to shift processes around managing multiple plans:

Combine Project Tracking to Fill the Gap in Insights

When plans are managed in silos, the results can only be seen independently. This leaves a huge gap in how leaders can see progress across the entire organization.

Instead of reporting out on the detailed elements of each project individually, focus on how projects and plans as a collective unit are performing as a whole.

Dashboards help most with this; the ability to see initiatives’ statuses in a pie chart is extremely powerful. But that’s what business intelligence (BI) tools fall short; leaders also need the option to access finer details to get context around what’s producing results and what’s not – and why.

Connect Activities and Outcomes

In many organizations, the data sits in one location (BI system or data warehouse) while the activities (projects) lie elsewhere. This disconnect leads many organizations to work aimlessly and perform more of a “box-checking” exercise than true, strategic work. If you think your organization falls outside the typical statistics around poor plan and strategy execution, ask yourself the following questions: “Are we simply completing projects and initiatives as fast as we can? Or are we truly accomplishing the results for which these projects are being undertaken?”

For most organizations, it’s common to fall into execution mode without connecting activities to outcomes.

When tracking and reporting progress, it’s essential to identify the KPIs and quantifiable outcomes connected with organizational plans and projects so you have something to measure against. It’s one thing to know the status of an initiative, but a truly game changing insight to understand the contextual impact on key company-wide outcomes.

Align Priorities

When organizations track progress in silos, it’s very likely that their priorities are siloed as well. One person’s activities may be scattered across individual plans, or no single plan manager has insight into the initiatives of other teams. In many cases, this leaves organizations accidentally working either in completely opposite directions or duplicating efforts across the organization.

Successful organizations connect all their silos under a common vision and plan, guiding the organization forward. Not only does this increase focus and efficiency, but it has a long-standing effect on organizational culture, through increasing team member buy-in and commitment.

By creating a culture of execution with alignment, even the most selfless employees will learn to ask the question “What’s in it for me?” Aligning their work to an overarching outcome and plan will drive long-term engagement, increasing success rates.

Excel Was Not Built to Manage Multiple Plans

Moving forward, instead of using siloed project templates within Excel or project management tools, think critically about how your organization can begin connecting your silos to strike a healthy balance between team-level focus and big-picture visibility. Take a step back and consider how you can transform to manage through a single dashboard and standardized reporting process, instead of continuing with the status quo of a too-many-tabbed Excel spreadsheet.

In our experience, the highest performing organizations find ways to improve their processes by filling the gap in insights, connecting activities to outcomes, aligning priorities effectively, and moving to a tool that is built to manage more than one plan at once.

Strategy Execution Management Software: What It Is and Why It’s About to Take Over

By Jonathan Morgan

Strategy Execution Management Software: What It Is and Why It’s About to Take Over

By Jonathan Morgan


Gone are the days of paying a strategy consultant to listen to your team’s priorities for growth, retrofit those objectives into a proprietary plan structure, deliver it all in a glossy package, and leave your team to do the heavy-lifting. There’s a new model on the strategic planning scene, the process that actually helps your organization accomplish your initiatives: Strategy Execution Management (SEM).

“Executing strategy in the digital age requires tools connecting the shared objectives of business strategists and those executing the change and measure true business value.”

Gartner’s recently published Market Guide for Strategy Execution Management (SEM) Software outlines how this emerging market is finding its niche in the business community, how it’s currently evolving, and how it’s projected to grow in the future. AchieveIt – featured in this select group of SEM software – is riding the first wave of SEM as a tool that “connects shared objectives of business strategists and those executing the change and measure true business value.”

SEM is the trend of the future. Executional excellence took the number one spot in a list of 400 global CEOs’ most difficult challenges, more challenging than innovation, top-line growth, or even geopolitical instability. This is a problem that needs solving, and SEM has started budding in the marketplace to help boost the percentage of large organizations up from a 75% failure rate to successfully implement their plans.

AchieveIt is in accordance with the findings and recommendations about Strategy Execution Management outlined by Gartner, and we’d also like to recognize a few additional trends from what we’ve also learned by speaking with strategy executives across the globe.

MAKE EXECUTION A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

How can you use AchieveIt to help drive process improvement, automate reporting, and increase your efficiency?

Learn More About AchieveIt

Strategy Execution Shouldn’t Be Forced to Fit into Other Platforms

As organizational tech stacks continue to grow, strategy leaders have a natural inclination to test out what’s already in-house first. With the inflating over-abundance of software, we regularly find that IT resources tend to recommend alternate platforms that don’t fit the needs of strategy management (or will offer to build something that will only complicate things).

If existing software solutions like Project Management, Project Portfolio Management, Business Intelligence, and Excel enabled successful strategy execution, Gartner would have never released this trend report. The mere fact of its existence proves there’s a widening gap that needs to be bridged, and it can’t be done by trying to squeeze your strategy execution management into MS Office.

As comfortable as it may be to stick with a known software solution internally, organizations that successfully execute operate differently. Finding a software that’s built specifically for strategy execution will do more for your organization in the long run than trying to make improper solutions work.

However, on the flip side, keep in mind many SEM platforms can be used for other use cases than just strategy execution. Think about cost savings, operational excellence, risk management, and innovation plans, all connected in one place.

Strategy is Organization-Wide, So Strategy Software Should Support Organization-Wide Visibility

For many leaders, strategy execution often becomes a challenge due to the siloed nature of their organizations. While the strategy team and executives normally create the plan, execution traditionally falls on the business units themselves. This makes the tracking of insights across the organization extremely difficult; each department has their own way of tracking and reporting, so it’s impossible or otherwise time-consuming to see progress across the entire organization at once.

While this seems like the unavoidable status quo, the average organization is actually leaving over $7 million at risk with poor strategy execution management. $7 million!! By having a disconnected organization, gaps appear in insights across the organization, causing improper decision-making and missed opportunities. What could an additional $7 million+ in objectives achieved mean for your organization?

As strategy connects across an enterprise, strategy leaders must find ways to increase visibility for executives. When purchasing software to manage strategy, leaders should focus on platforms that make it easy to visualize progress across the organization. Moving away from siloed reporting and execution is the only way to conserve millions of dollars at risk for an organization with a poor execution success rate.

The Best Software in the World Won’t Guarantee Success; It Takes Thoughtful Change Management

While there are many reasons strategies fail, one primary reason is that today’s fires take priority over strategic initiatives, creating an endless cycle of pushing out strategy. When implementing a new software, we must recognize how this trend will only continue if emphasis isn’t placed on proper implementation, change management, and overall adoption.

Gartner has estimated that 75% of all ERP implementations fail. We haven’t seen anywhere close to this number with AchieveIt’s customers, but this perception of failure significantly impacts purchasing decisions for strategy execution platforms. Leaders are fearful it won’t take hold, and as they’ve prophesized, the software never stands a chance to be fully incorporated into operations and the culture of their organization.

Platforms that continue to see success in the SEM marketplace will take a thoughtful approach to implementation and an ongoing partnership. Keep in mind – this isn’t just focusing on proper software training. Organizations regularly need increased focus on foundational teachings related to strategy to create a culture built around execution. Additionally, optimizing plans for execution is critically important to ensure successful utilization of any new platform. Lastly, SEM organizations should focus on helping organizations build out new processes to increase attention on monitoring strategy and improving agility.

Where Will You Stand When the Strategy Execution Management Market Takes Off?

As the strategy execution management software landscape continues to change, where will you stand? Will you continue to try to use generic tools to execute specific processes? Will you suffer from compiling hundreds of different spreadsheets, just to put together a single dashboard for cross-plan visibility? Or will you find a solution that works for your company, and go full-force into a hearty, supportive, ongoing implementation powered by change management? At AchieveIt, we look forward to helping more organizations take back control of their dollars at risk and transform the way they manage execution.

3 Ways to Boost Productivity: Execute More of Your Plans by Reducing Meetings

By Jonathan Morgan

3 Ways to Boost Productivity: Execute More of Your Plans by Reducing Meetings

Have you seen this article?

Harvard Business Review published this study where consultants at Bain found one of their customers spent 300,000 hours a year on a weekly meeting.

300,000!

While this first sounded shocking to me, as I thought more about my customer interactions and the insights they have shared, I realized this likely exists in many organizations across the globe. Even in smaller organizations, I’ve experienced meetings that consistently require extensive resources, and I’m sure you can think of similar meetings within your organization.

When employees are consumed by hours of meetings, it often limits organizational productivity. When productivity deteriorates, most organizations attempt to “restructure” by cutting head count in hopes of increasing productivity and ultimately the return per employee.

Why is it that restructuring is typically the first move? Why not focus on increasing employee output and reconsidering the valuable execution time that’s sucked up into these meetings?

Unfortunately, most companies find it easier to restructure than to do some digging to determine ways to increase the output from each employee.

Examine Your Productivity from a Process Standpoint

The key to finding the real source of your productivity problem is to investigate your team as-is, rather than jumping directly to eliminating employees. A lot of times, if you can repair your issue at the root cause – most likely your process – you can boost your productivity exponentially without restructuring your whole organization.

While the aforementioned article outlines five ways to get the most out of your employees, I’ve selected three that I have found to be especially important when working with my customers.

Align Employees to Goals and Each Other

From the HBR Article – what causes loss of productivity:

1) The company may have great people and potentially effective teams, but its organizational structure interferes with high performance.

In many organizations, this issue comes down to improper alignment across the enterprise. Alignment impacts both the performance within a team, and across an organization.

Within a team, alignment connects individuals to the importance behind their work. Employees should understand how their daily tasks roll up to support larger company goals. Team members should be aligned under the same metrics, so they can paint a single picture of success and move towards it together.

Across an organization, alignment helps ensure people are working on the right things and that duplicative work isn’t being conducted. Do you know how all of your resources are spanning across plans and projects? Are there overlapping goals? How are resources from different plans being pulled across the organization?

When you have a clear understanding of your company’s performance at a high level and how goals trickle down, alignment can help skinny organizational structure by reducing shared resources and lines of approval, for example.

Proper alignment can help connect the primary quantitative outcomes to specific tasks, enabling a quick understanding of activities’ effectiveness. This understanding will allow you to make quick, well-informed decisions to increase productivity: keep what is working and ditch what isn’t.

Create a Plan for Change Management – And Follow Through!

From the HBR Article – what causes loss of productivity:

2) The people aren’t sufficiently engaged or inspired to deliver their best work.

Unfortunately, this issue occurs extremely regularly with my customers. Organizations attempt to undergo change without the commitment and buy-in from the individuals responsible for undertaking the change.

To properly engage and inspire your team, it’s first important to ensure everyone understands why the change is important, as well as their role in accomplishing the change. If people don’t know what their role is, how can you expect them to buy-in to the change?

Create a detailed plan for change management for plan implementation early on, take your time explaining and answering questions, and check back in often to gauge buy-in during the change process.

Beyond communicating individuals’ roles, successful organizations also create a culture that supports their best work. I’ve found that most organizations ask a lot of their employees, but never give anything in return to keep them engaged. Especially with status reporting, leaders ask for updates and reports without ever communicating how the updates are being used or how the organization as a whole is performing. Transparency is crucial to create a compelling scoreboard to let your teams know in a simple way if you are “winning” or “losing.”

Gather Updates & Send Reports to Review Before Meeting

From the HBR Article – what causes loss of productivity:

3) The way people interact and communicate may require too much time for the level of output generated.

Whatever is holding up your information gathering and report creation process has to go.

Successful execution requires three primary elements: 1) The Right People, 2) A Plan Optimized for Execution, and 3) A Process. The third element is where most organizations fall short and over-utilize their resources.

These “status-update” meetings eat up 300,000 hours of your year because they’re just that. Reporting is manual and takes forever, and you’re pulling some of your highest paid executives away from their strategic work and asking them to sit in a room to listen to each other give status updates. Very little of their expensive time together is being spent talking about what to do with that information.

If you have the updates ahead of time, and send out dashboards to produce a clear understanding of what’s going well and not going well, it can streamline the communication and number of meetings needed, allowing you to have dialogues to help tackle problem areas.

Sadly, most organizations can’t support this ideal process because update collection and reporting is cumbersome and broken. Time spent chasing updates and compiling information only adds to that scary 300,000 hours a year.

To reclaim your time, it’s critically important to establish an efficient process that collects updates directly from the source instead of through multiple levels. And perhaps more importantly, the information must then be communicated at levels of detail for specific management tiers (i.e. not too detailed or not too high-level). By creating the proper process, the proper level of output can be generated while also reducing the time spent.

Get Help!

At AchieveIt, we help our customers create new processes to increase efficiency in their planning efforts every single day. Whether it’s through creating a quicker update process, streamlining status update meetings, or creating compelling score boards, it’s our hope that 300,000-hour meetings will soon be a thing of the past.

How to Manage Results When Your Tech Stack is Too High

By Jonathan Morgan

How to Manage Results When Your Tech Stack is Too High

Earlier this week I was talking to a friend, a strategic leader of a mid-sized company based here in Atlanta, who has been experiencing a struggle that many of my customers have also fought with. In a complex organization, business environment, and ever-changing technology industry, there has been an influx of more and more software solutions. In the words of my friend, “I feel like every 30 minutes, I’m operating out of a different system or creating a different report. Every team manages their work differently in JIRA or Smartsheet or some other team tool. At the end of the month, I’m left with pulling reports from multiple systems that show a lot of the same information.” Today’s varied market of software provides highly-tailored solutions at the team level but creates a challenge for the executive level. For leaders trying to gain visibility into how multiple teams are doing across plans and projects, using multiple work tools is a nightmare.

Why Are There Too Many Platforms?

In its basic form, it comes down to how organizations are forced to operate in today’s highly competitive and technology-driven landscape: with agility. When you’re constantly shifting to address the next project, there isn’t time to find a new process or system to manage outcomes at an enterprise level. Teams continue to use tools that are specifically catered to them, so they can get their work done quickly. Growth needs to happen fast, which gives little time for process optimization and carefully choosing cross-functional tools.

Why Are We Moving Too Fast?

The nature of the problem stems from the increase in competition across most markets. A decrease in barriers to market entry and an increase in access to capital has made it tougher for organizations to grow and remain at the top. Just take a look at how the Fortune 500 has changed in the last 60 years if you don’t believe me. This change in competition – which is accelerating – has forced more companies and executives to think about their future in a new light, increasing the focus on strategy and planning. Instead of viewing growth at a team or project level, leaders are adapting by aligning resources to achieve overarching initiatives. As found by the Project Management Institute (PMI), 88% of executives say that executing strategic initiatives successfully will be “essential” or “very important” for their organizations’ competitiveness in the next few years. With an increased focus on planning, executives can no longer conduct planning as a “checking the box” exercise. They MUST think about how they will operationalize their plans – to make changes stick.

Why Doesn't a Siloed Approach Work?

With a new emphasis, comes new problems. Organizations continue to struggle with operationalizing strategic plans. And as my colleague, Joe Krause, discussed, organizations continually fight with differentiating strategic and operational plans. In many cases, the organizational strategic plan is disseminated down into operational elements and distributed to the teams/divisions with minimal process or communication. Leaders want the results and insights along the way, but rarely build out an organizational process to be able to understand the work being done at the employee level. This leads to the true issue. As the work disseminates down, teams are given an option to choose from a massive market of technology solutions to help them drive their distributed tasks. With their selection, they are hoping to be as efficient as possible, so they can deliver results to executives. But, as Wrike recently discussed, “getting what you want—immediately when you want it—is the new norm.” It must be easy to understand what is happening and why it’s happening, as it’s happening. Unfortunately, before starting this process, many leaders don’t sit back and think about the long-term impact. Leaders relinquish decision-making power when they don’t have a way to see what’s working (and what isn’t) until it’s already done and reported 6 months later.

How Do Successful Leaders Get Insight Across Software Solutions?

How can a leader make decisions across their enterprise when looking across numerous platforms, each with their own distinct characteristics? In short, they can’t. Or if they can, it is extremely difficult. You may be familiar with collecting reports from each individual system and spending 10s of hours every month compiling them into single-language reports. You want them to be both high-level enough for a C-level overview and detailed enough to provide insightful information for managers. This method is broken.

What's a Good Solution for Enterprise-Level Plan Insight?

While there is a sea of platforms available to manage teams and operational items, very few options exist to help the entire enterprise. This leads to a disconnect in comprehending results from one team to the next. Even further, it leaves a massive gap between the day-to-day activities, or operations, and the outcomes of the enterprise. There may be an abundance of great work that’s happening: incredible projects, initiatives, activities, and more. But if you can’t tie them to the organizational outcomes, or KPIs, can you truly be sure that these are the right initiatives? Your organization should closely align the objectives/outcomes your enterprise is seeking with the activities and operational elements that impact the results. This should be done in a consistent manner across the organization. Your process should force accountability and enable visibility into progress in one platform. It shouldn’t take compiling multiple systems or trying to make a business decision by relying on 5+ PowerPoint presentations. The segmented, outdated way of the past doesn’t have to continue any longer. At AchieveIt, we have the first true enterprise platform for execution. One that enables accountability and visibility across all levels of the organization, giving the insights to drive enterprise execution.

How to Tell if Your Plan is Structured for Execution

By Jonathan Morgan

How to Tell if Your Plan is Structured for Execution

Have you ever created a plan that wasn’t properly executed? Whether it was a strategic or other business plan or for a personal goal, it may have been difficult to understand why this meticulously-made plan with all its potential died in the process of execution.

While there are many reasons for failure to execute (how you define success, time management, or the planning fallacy to name a few), one I’ve recently seen more and more is that the basic structure of the plan is weak.

As a leader in your organization, the actual building of your plan can be done following any number of methodologies, but in the end, your plan has to address certain key elements to set your team up for successful execution.

Complex Terminology is Making Your Plan Weak

Earlier this week, I read a great article by Graham Kenny in the Harvard Business Review. In it, he discusses how most organizational leaders can’t properly develop a “strategy,” just by putting pen to paper. When asked to write down a “strategy,” most leaders instead give an “objective” or “action” instead of a true strategy – multi-layered, results-driven, actionable, and addressing the who-what-when-where-why-how of achieving each goal.

I immediately related to the scenario of an executive setting out to author a strategy; it’s something I see more frequently than I’d like to admit. What a lot of leaders may not understand is that strategies must be built, layer by layer, with the help of employees at each level to be able to target the specific challenges your organization is facing.

There are many specific planning methodologies – like Balanced Scorecard, OKRs, or Lean Six Sigma – that are touted as the end-all solutions to plan management. However, these approaches are usually bogged down with so much particular vernacular that too often leave organizations with a plan with language that’s jumbled by buzzwords and trendy phrases that aren’t fully understood or thought out.

The result? These plans could lack clear definition masked behind all the terminology.

Ground Your Plan in Strong Structure

As Graham Kenny mentioned in the HBR article, developing a plan should involve system design and conscious thought into how it cascades properly throughout the organization.

This is the only goal leaders building business plan should aim for.

The words and language you use don’t really matter.

When I uncover this exact plan formulation problem with customers, I’m often asked for recommendations on a proper structure to enhance execution. With so many prescribed methodologies and techniques available, what’s the best way to plan?

This may sound blasphemous to some in the strategy world, but for me, I don’t care if you call something a goal or objective, strategy or initiative. As long as your organization knows what each term means, your plan will gain its strength from structure, and not the terms.

So, what do I recommend then? I’ve outlined a basic 5-level structure below that will enable success.

Note that while there are levels to this plan, all five levels may not apply to every organization. You may find your company doesn’t need the broad-sweeping focus of level 1, while others may not need the detail in level 5. Its about finding balance and the proper approach for your organization.

Level 1 – Organize Your Plan by Theme

Theme is the top, most organizational level of your plan. Themes are used to bucket the rest of the plan into organizational categories of the business.

You might choose to segment your plan based on departments, areas of focus, or geolocations, for example. The theme you choose will give you those breakdowns.

Some smaller plans or organizations may not need this additional level.

Level 2 – Define the Goals You Want to Accomplish

Goals define what your business is striving to complete. Statements at this level are generally a sentence or two, outlining where you want to be in the future.

Think of it as a miniature Vision statement. An example of a good goal would be, “To become the top service provider in the Southeast,” or “To be top 5 in patient satisfaction.”

Every type of plan – even plans for personal goals – must have these definitions of success.

Level 3 – Quantify Objectives with Metrics

Objectives are the quantitative outcomes that will help you reach your goals. Assign the KPIs, metrics, or measurements to your goals that will signal when you’ve “become the top service provider in the southeast.”

As discussed previously, quantitative metrics are crucial to measuring the success of your objectives and your plan. An objective shouldn’t be to implement, develop, or deploy something – it should be to increase, decrease, or maintain a certain figure.

Again, most types of plans will need this level of detail to know when you’ve reached your goals.

Level 4 – Define Your Strategy or Plan of Attack

As the HBR article outlines, the strategies in your plan will be the adjustments you make in order to accomplish your objectives.

These could be traditional business strategies, or in some organizations, they could be the initiatives and projects meant to steer the organization in the right direction.

Level 5 – List Your Tactical Action Items

The last level of the plan are your tactics. As expected, these are the smaller items that make up your strategies. They are the bite-sized pieces that allow you to realize your strategy.

These could be referred to as milestones, deliverables, or something else altogether – again, it’s not the vernacular that’s important. Whatever you call them – these are the action items your team can take to make your strategy happen.

A Plan by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Remember, at its core, a strategic plan will help guide your organization to achieve its goals.

If you start to get hung up on “correctly” defining your future state during the plan creation process, remember that your plan is only a series of bets placed around the organization. From the bottom level up, you’re hoping the bets you cash in increase exponentially as you cascade up the plan. By accomplishing your tactics, you complete your strategies, moving the needle in the right way on your objectives, and positioning you to achieve your goal.

Since you are placing bets, it makes sense to give yourself and your organization the best chance of winning. That’s why organizations create plans structured for execution and use AchieveIt to properly track and monitor.

Plan Optimization: The Last Mile of Strategy

By Jonathan Morgan

Plan Optimization: The Last Mile of Strategy

At AchieveIt, we constantly talk about the gap between planning and execution. Organizations create great plans but often fail to realize those initiatives. While this is tremendously important, there’s another significant problem that many organizations face – finalizing a plan.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to get to the 10-yard line when creating their plan, but then struggle to make it to the end zone. In many cases, the last 10-20% – making minor optimization adjustments – is the most important part of the planning process, as it drives the ability to execute the plan itself.

We regularly help clients push through this late-stage resistance through our Plan Optimization Workshop. In these sessions, we focus on driving five key elements:

1. Quantitative Outcomes

If you are a big sports fan, you likely know plenty of statistics about your favorite team. Whether it’s in-game or post-game, you have the statistics at your fingertips to diagnose the team’s performance, as all good armchair coaches do. But what about people who aren’t as knowledgeable or as big of fans?

No matter how big of a sports fan you may or may not be, there’s one thing all individuals can easily identify the same: the score – who’s winning and who’s losing. While the detailed stats (RBIs, FT%, YDS/A, A/GP, Saves, etc.) are extremely important to understand individual performance, just looking at acute metrics makes it challenging to know which team is winning overall especially if any information is missing.

Just because LeBron scored 46 individual points, doesn’t necessarily mean the Cavs won the game (though it probably does).

The scoreboard principle applies to organizations too. There is plenty of data available at the fingertips of individuals throughout the organization. But, this data overload causes two primary problems: 1) not everyone has or understands all the data; and 2) there’s no “score,” no one metric under which everyone is aligned and measuring against to determine overall success.

Identify the quantitative outcomes that will drive your strategy to success. Move away from terms like develop, implement, and deploy when they can be replaced by increase, decrease, and maintain. By identifying what numbers you have and where they need to move to, you will be on your way to knowing the “score” and identifying the success of your plan.

2. Defined Accountabilities

Everyone has been in the situation where a team meets to discuss progress of initiatives, only to find out that the action items weren’t completed. Why did that happen? Most likely because the “team” said they would do it.

When items aren’t assigned to one person, it’s often left to a “team” and when it’s left to a “team” it’s often left to no one.

To finalize a successful plan, make sure each item in the plan (whether it be an objective, goal, project, or other task) is assigned out to one person. It’s always great to include the others as “members” on the team, but you need one single accountable party to drive success. This chosen leader should be the one closest to the work and most likely to provide a comprehensive update.

3. Firm Due Dates

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a natural procrastinator inside of all of us just waiting to get out (when they get around to it). While it may be a more severe challenge for some individuals, many people across organizations struggle with prioritizing work and initiatives, especially over longer time frames.

Many organizations make the mistake of aligning all their work over the full course of their plan. One-year plan? Everything starts Jan 1 and ends Dec 31. Multi-year plan? Well, it just gets worse from there. Improper generic start and due dates will plague your plan at the hands of inevitable procrastination.

In the process of finalizing your plan, be sure to check the accuracy and practicality of your start and due dates. Conduct the proper due diligence to spread the work over the course of the plan and ensure that you are not overloading any team or individual over certain time periods.

If you do end up having goals that spread over a longer period (e.g. long-term metric goals), be sure to establish periodic benchmark goals to compare. For example, if you have an annual revenue target, instead of just tracking towards the annual goal, add in quarterly or monthly targets to gauge your success throughout the year.

4. A Cadence of Accountability

How often do you typically review the progress of your plan and initiatives? If you are like most organizations, the answer is typically either “we try to do it monthly/quarterly/etc.” or “whenever we are asked for an update.” In both situations, you are left with ad hoc discussions and piecemeal execution, limiting the visibility into true performance and trends.

To improve this scenario in the final planning process, establish a cadence of accountability for how often updates are requested across your plan. It’s also important to ensure the timing of these requests is consistent and reasonable. If results are only available quarterly, don’t ask for updates each month. Vice versa, if you have access to monthly updates, don’t rely only on quarterly progress updates.

Not sure where to start? Begin with a monthly update cadence and adjust from there. Unless an initiative is extremely urgent and pressed for time, I wouldn’t recommend updating more frequently than every month until a strong culture and process is in place.

5. Alignment

Plain and simple, alignment is connecting all your plan items together. Alignment displays the hierarchy/structure of you plan, ensuring initiatives are connected to each other, to overall goals, and to individuals’ tasks – and that you aren’t open to white space risk.

Does your plan naturally cascade work with Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Projects, or a similar format? If not, be sure to set your plan up like a “family tree.” In addition to helping keep you organized, individuals will now understand how their daily roles and workload align to the overall priorities of the organization.

Crossing the Finish Line

It’s easy to be excited about getting all your ideas down and finishing a play. It can be tempting to get to work right away, but without making sure these last-stretch plan items are in place, you’re setting yourself up to fall into the same traps over and over again.

Our hope is these 5 tips will move your plan across the goal line to be prepared fully for successful execution.

Still struggling with finalizing your plan or getting the execution efforts you hoped to achieve? Let us know! We can connect on driving success forward and conducting a
Plan Optimization Workshop
for you and your team.

Are You Working on the Right Initiatives?

By Jonathan Morgan

Are You Working on the Right Initiatives?

When any organization gets through a planning cycle, they often come away with a clear path for moving forward. As I’ve discussed several times on this blog, the step where many organizations fail is in executing that plan. Even for those teams that pursue plan execution diligently, too often they still find their plan has key flaws that prevent long-term success.

If you’ve made it this far – you know how to put together a good plan, you know how to create a culture of execution, but the initiatives you’re working on aren’t moving the needle on your overarching goals – you’re likely wondering, “Are we working on the right initiatives?”

You’ll likely encounter this question with any goal setting exercise, personal or professional. Are the activities you conduct on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis driving the outcomes you hope to achieve?

I still remember several situations where I’ve asked myself that question.

For me, one case was health/fitness related. I committed to “becoming a healthier person” with hopes of achieving key fitness milestones such as weight loss, increased endurance, and more. I had measurements and deadlines, so my plan was good. However, I vividly remember being a few months into my “plan,” frustrated with the lack of results and finally wondering, “Am I doing the right things to achieve my goals?” For instance, maybe instead of counting calories, I needed to focus more on the amount of protein I was eating, to reach my goal of becoming stronger.

In this situation, I was able to analyze my activities, adjust my plan, and kickstart my approach to achieving my goals.

Unfortunately for most organizations, adjusting a plan is an afterthought. You’ve likely heard a few of the following questions:

Why adjust the plan if we spent so long developing it in the first place? Are we even sure that we need to adjust the plan? What happens if our new assumptions are incorrect?

Regardless of your situation, it’s important to properly address the key question, “Are we working on the right initiatives?” and adjust. After you’ve asked yourself this question, walk through the following self-assessment steps to identify the answer and best path forward.

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Do you have measurable outcomes?

Does your plan have key performance indicators and/or measures, or does it resemble more of a to-do list?

Measurable outcomes are the key way to understand if your plan is working or not. Without benchmarks, you may have a plan that’s working properly – and be asking the wrong question altogether. If you don’t have any measurable outcomes, consider the 3-5 key metrics you discuss amongst your team, department, or organization. Use these as the baseline metrics to measure your business against.

Internally at AchieveIt, we have it broken down by the organizational teams. Sales has targets related to increasing new business, finance has expense-related targets, marketing has targets focused on increasing our reach, engineering is focused on development schedules, and customer success is focused on growing our customer base. So, taking measurements each department deems important helps us establish a baseline to define key targets to measure against overall.

In my fitness example from before, I had key measurable outcomes related to weight loss and endurance. More specifically, I wanted to lose a certain number of pounds and be able to decrease my average time per mile. Can you imagine trying to “be a healthier person” without ever stepping on a scale or visiting the doctor? There would be no way to understand the progress of your plan, and the same applies for any business.

Are your initiatives directly aligned with your outcomes?

If you do have quantifiable outcomes, the next question is to make sure your initiatives, activities, and projects are directly aligned with your outcomes.

I can’t tell you the amount of customers I’ve spoken with that have a “Strategic” or “Business” plan with a separate “KPI scorecard” or other outside document. While this is fine and manageable in some businesses, many times there are zero connection points between the document and the plan itself. You can see the fatal planning flaw. Why work on a ton of initiatives and projects if you aren’t even sure how they will impact your key performance indicators?

Instead, align your initiatives and projects directly with your outcomes. If a project doesn’t align with an outcome, decide whether the initiative is worth pursuing or if you are potentially missing a key measure. Through completion of your initiatives, the outcome should start moving in the right direction.

When I was trying to “be healthier,” I knew the specific outcomes that would measure success and developed activities that would hopefully push this outcome in the right direction. I increased the number of times I went to the gym and spent more time running to increase my endurance, hopefully setting me on the right path towards my goals.
Unfortunately, as I encountered, and as you likely have too, I was completing the activities but not seeing the results I had hoped to achieve. It didn’t matter how many times I went to the gym if all I was doing was checking a box to say that I went. When I tied my amount of time on the treadmill to my speed per mile, I was able to connect my goal of “time running” to my KPI of “increased mile time,” and that mindset made a big difference.

Are you completing initiatives/projects but not seeing the results expected?

Like my situation, you may encounter situations where you’ve passed the first two questions but still aren’t seeing the results you hoped. At this point, it’s important to constructively criticize your plan and truly ask, “Are we working on the right initiatives?”

For me, I identified every single potential activity that could influence my outcomes. With this lens, I could identify what potential gaps existed in my plan. Or perhaps there were activities I considered pursuing but put on hold based on available time.

In my situation, I spotted a large roadblock to improving my eating habits: the weekend happy hours and nearby Chick-fil-A were too much to turn down, negating many of the positive activities I was conducting. An increased focus on dieting activity was then added to my plan to give it the boost I needed to start seeing results.

For your organization, it’s critically important to identify the initiatives that aren’t working, but also those that are. In many cases, you can also align the resources, timelines, budget constraints, etc. to increase this analysis.

If you are spending a ton of time and money on initiatives that aren’t moving your outcomes in the right direction, don’t be afraid to pull the plug and apply those resources elsewhere. Your plan shouldn’t be set in stone. This is the key step in achieving the results you aim to achieve.

For many clients, I recommend having a brief conversation on this topic quarterly – analyzing your plan and whether or not your aligned for success and measuring outcomes. The more and more you have this discussion, the easier it will become to identify the key initiatives, projects, strategies, and more to move your outcomes in the right direction.

Have we given enough time for the results to occur?

In many situations, there is actually a fourth question to ask. There are some measures that simply take longer to react to activities and it’s important to identify these metrics before abandoning successful initiatives and activities.

While there is no perfect science for this question, it should not be forgotten as you would hate to abandon activities too early, when results are just around the corner.

While it’s likely I hadn’t given myself enough time for my fitness results to occur, I was able to combine my “plan adjustment” with enough time to achieve the results I aimed for from day one.

How do you measure up?

No matter your organization’s size, industry, or focus on strategy and planning, you can apply these basic principles today to improve your execution. Our clients combine these principles with the AchieveIt platform to have direct insight into outcome and initiative performance, identifying areas that may not be working effectively and enabling true agile planning.

How to Create Actionable Goals in Just 3 Steps

By Jonathan Morgan

How to Create Actionable Goals in Just 3 Steps

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been thinking about the problems organizations face when attempting to achieve their most important initiatives. Time and time again, organizations spend a significant amount of time, money, and resources developing a plan they never fully execute or realize. While there are numerous reasons organizations struggle, as we have described on this blog before, I uncovered three additional factors to improve execution efforts. And these ideas didn’t come from the “rocket science” of strategy/execution, data analytics, or a higher power, but from a common scenario that many have faced themselves.

In early January, I posted an article likening planning to creating a new year’s resolution. Individuals, like organizations, struggle to execute and complete their new year’s resolution due to fundamental breakdowns in their execution process. They don’t keep their goal a priority, it’s difficult to monitor, and it’s the easiest task to push to the side when the whirlwind of day-to-day life hits.

However, I realized that, as we enter February, a different type of resolution individuals often make has a higher likelihood of success: a Lenten resolution. For those who don’t know, the season of “Lent” just began on Wednesday the 14th for many Christians around the world. Lent recognizes the 40 days leading up to Easter where individuals repent, fast, and prepare for the coming of Easter. One thing that many Christians today also do is make a personal sacrifice by choosing to give up something (e.g. fried food, soda, candy, etc.) or volunteer extra time during this period.

As I’ve seen in my own personal life, and the lives of friends and colleagues, I have typically been able to keep my Lenten promise, but never can seem to stick by my new year’s resolution. It was in my thought process this week that I finally realized why. What’s more is that I strongly believe these reasons can also influence the execution efforts for organizations of all shapes and sizes.

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3 Features of Goals You Can Actually Complete

1. The goal has a reasonable length of time and a firm due date.

Many people can follow through on their Lenten resolution because they know it will only take 40 days and they know exactly when they will be completed. Conversely, a new year’s resolution is often open-ended, enabling procrastination and indifference.

For an organizational plan, companies struggle because there is a lack of urgency. Everything is spanned out over the entire year, or is given too much time to complete, which enables individuals to prioritize other work ahead of plan execution. In order to be successful, break the plan down into bite-sized goals with appropriate deadlines. These intermittent goals and deadlines will result in an increased sense of urgency, and help people frame long-term goals in a more immediate time frame.

2. The goal is connected to an over-arching mission.

There’s no doubt that part of the reason individuals are successful during Lent is because of their purpose in pursuing the goal. Conversely, a new year’s resolution doesn’t always have a true connection outside of personal motivation, which can quickly deteriorate.

As I’ve discussed before, tying the organizational mission and vision to planning and execution is critically important. It gives people purpose – an understanding for “why” they are working on initiatives – and invests them in the planning and execution process with greater engagement.

3. The goal is tangible and “real.”

Far too often individuals struggle with new year’s resolutions because they are too lofty. They want to be “healthier” or want to “procrastinate less.” Specific goals are established in very few cases, which limits the focus moving forward into the year. Individual Lenten promises are often much more specific and tangible, with crowd favorites relating to giving up a favorite food item (chocolate, alcohol, etc.) or mild addiction (social media, tv, etc.). By focusing on your goal and target, it become easier to see the finish line and realize success.

With your planning efforts, simplify your goals and tactics to enable focus. This increased focus will help prevent pushing the objective to the side due to confusion or apathy. Additionally, if you can tie it to something individuals and teams can relate to and understand on a personal or emotional level, you can invest them further in the goals you are reaching to achieve.

Make Your Goals More Tangible to Increase Your ROI

There are lessons that each and every one of us can take from our personal lives to help explain the disconnect between planning and execution. While we at AchieveIt help organizations execute at a higher level everyday, we are also individuals that, at times, struggle with the same elements of execution in our personal lives. By merging lessons from personal experience with business experience, the solutions for our problems are closer than we could ever expect.

How to Deal with Plan Execution Saboteurs

By Jonathan Morgan

How to Deal with Plan Execution Saboteurs

As we’ve discussed many times on our blog, organizations continually struggle with executing their most important plans. Fortunately, more and more organizations are turning the corner towards successful execution by leveraging industry best practices and purpose-built software.

However, for nearly every organization that’s on the journey towards a culture of execution – and even those already successfully executing – there is commonly one detrimental issue that arises: individuals unwilling to participate.

While the resistance is normally limited to a few individuals, having any pushback against the plan can cause frustration for managers. Questions start flying around like, “We’ve been planning for months, why are they just now complaining?” and “Why is it so hard for them to just provide an update?” How does this happen?

This may sound like common sense, but those responsible for completing the initiatives, managing projects and aligning objectives can struggle with new processes – especially if they don’t understand their role in the execution process.

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The Secret to Gaining Buy-In from Change Resistant Employees

While the path to buy-in and successful execution most certainly starts with building an effective accountability system, as my colleague Joe Krause discussed, it also involves three additional elements. Over the past month, I have been asked about this exact problem several times and given the same response.

Whether you’re in a college or university dealing with resistant faculty, in a health system managing resistant physicians or in any other organization working with individuals afraid of change, consider the following tips:

1) Involve your people in the planning process

Your strategic planning process shouldn’t be done behind closed doors. If employees at all levels have no input into the plan and don’t hear about it until its final, how should you expect them to 100% be behind it? Strategic planning takes a village. Involve your people in the process so they can stamp their fingerprint and become invested in the plan.

If your strategic planning process resembles Moses coming down with the 10 commandments and is etched in stone, you are living in the past and will increase your likelihood for resistance.

2) Understand your people

Do you actually know your people on a personal level? Do you understand what motivates them and why they enjoy coming to work each and every day?

While you don’t need to know all the intimate details of their lives, understanding what motivates your team will allow you to align goals with the proper team members and leaders throughout the organization. In addition to proper alignment, knowing your team and having that influence trickle down throughout the organization can help increase job satisfaction and retention, which also happens to indirectly increase buy-in to organizational initiatives.

3) Make your plan “real”

While a plan certainly needs business elements to drive success, you shouldn’t play buzzword bingo when creating it. As you move down the layers of a plan, e.g. from Objectives to Goals to Strategies to Tactics, or whatever your terminology may be, make an effort to relate more to your people.

If you work in a healthcare system, your tactics at the nursing level shouldn’t be heavily invested in “creating synergies” or increasing specific quality metrics. The tactics should align more with what that level of the organization cares about: helping people feel better. The same applies to colleges and universities. Don’t try to convince a resistant faculty member that fundraising or development is the most important focus. Relate to them and align tactics around what they care about: improving the educational experience for students.

Engage Employees from Early-On for Execution Excellence

A culture of execution starts early, from the ground-up. To build your Dream Team of Plan Execution, you’ve got to commit as a team from the beginning.

While AchieveIt is already working to reduce resistance through decreased time spent on reporting, increased time spent on execution and increased alignment and collaboration, consider these three elements to reduce the resistance in other areas. Have other recommendations or issues you’ve run into? Let us know!

via GIPHY

 

Achieve More in 2018 by Expanding Strategy Beyond Your Strategic Plan

By Jonathan Morgan

Achieve More in 2018 by Expanding Strategy Beyond Your Strategic Plan

Happy New Year! After the holiday season has passed, the New Year’s streamers have fallen, and celebrations have ended, reality is now knocking at the front door. In addition to starting the work year off right, you’ve no doubt created an ambitious new year’s resolution.

The crowd favorite is a new, healthier lifestyle. Early morning workouts, less eating out, no more alcohol. But what typically happens with these resolutions? Mid-January hits and its New Year, Old You; resolutions are pushed to the side with the whirlwind of day-to-day responsibilities and commitments.

What you likely didn’t realize, is that in developing a resolution, you developed a mini-strategy or strategic plan for yourself. You want to lose 20 pounds, reduce your cholesterol by several points, run a half-marathon, or some other goal. And how are you going to achieve it? You have developed strategies and projects, such as eating healthier and going to the gym, to help achieve your goals. But just like organizations of all sizes, execution fails and therefore you fall short of your goals.

Strategy Plans are Cross-Functional

Execution should be the most important focus of an organization and individual. Because it doesn’t just relate to your strategic plan; strategy is everywhere. It’s in your strategic plan, cost reduction initiatives, change management, and, as we’ve just seen, even your new year’s resolution. In its simplest fashion, strategy is creating a set of goals for what you would like to achieve and the action plan to get you there. Then, in order to optimize execution efforts, you need to track and monitor progress towards your goals. You’ve heard it a million times – what gets measured, gets managed. We’d take it even a step further – what gets measured, gets managed and gets achieved.

At AchieveIt, we have companies of all sizes and industries using our execution platform to execute better on their strategies.  Below are just a few examples outside of a traditional strategic plan where the importance of strategy, tracking and execution are widespread:

Cost Reduction/Cost Optimization

For nearly all organizations, even wildly successful ones, cost reduction is a key focus. Goals are developed to reduce overhead and increase profit whether revenues are increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same. With cost reduction initiatives, an organization sets a cost reduction goal, or a profit goal, that is then often segmented by business units across the organization. From there, it is up to the business units to develop strategies and plans to reduce their own costs. To achieve the cost reduction goals of the organization, proper execution and tracking must occur with cross-functional communication, visibility and alignment.

Change Management

In any change management process, an organization is looking to pivot its resources and strategies in new ways. It requires many groups of people, working on actions in collaboration with one another to achieve the common goal. Change management programs should be treated as strategies with proper execution to ensure a successful transformation.

Business Process Improvement

While change management is focused on a major pivot or transformation, business process improvement is meant to make an organization leaner and more efficient. These programs often result in lower time waste, faster or more efficient manufacturing or production processes, happier customers and higher profitability and therefore must be treated as strategies and executed properly. Many process improvement programs involve numerous parties and business units across an organization. At AchieveIt, we help customers ensure clear communication and enable a direct line of sight into how the process improvement is progressing.

Risk Management

While the previous other scenarios focus on changing, risk management is often about preventing change and issues from developing. To achieve success, risk management involves a consistent process with regular status updates, audits and corrective action plan development. While it may not look like a traditional strategy, AchieveIt clients leverage our platform to ensure proper compliance with their risk management issues and successful execution for their action plans.

Make 2018 the Year of Achievement

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, think about ways to incorporate principles of strategy, measurement and execution across your business. Develop proper objectives, goals and strategies, combine them with meticulous tracking and ensure successful execution by incorporating accountability, visibility, collaboration and alignment. Whether you are trying to achieve your strategic plan, or working on cost reduction, change management, business process improvement or risk management initiatives, we are here to help you successfully execute. Find out how AchieveIt can help.

At the very least, we hope you are now armed to continue your new year’s resolution a bit longer than normal.