Almost every organization struggles with executing the plan they agreed on in October of the previous year. By the time January rolls around, a few more good ideas have been added. And by the end of Q1, a couple more initiatives have been added and prioritized over old objectives. If your experience is like most organizations, by the time the calendar flips to June, the plan from the previous October has been Frankensteined with new, competing priorities to a point beyond recognition.
We know we have to remain agile to remain relevant in the pace of today’s business world. But what’s the right balance of adapting and innovating, and 100% commitment to executing only what you have in your plan?
I had the pleasure of presenting at the StrategyEXECUTION event this past week where I spent an entire afternoon learning from a room of strategy professionals. We covered a lot of topics, and during the Q&A portion of the program, Michelle Priggen from Cardinal of Minnesota asked a great question that sparked an engaging discussion among the strategy professionals.
She asked, “Has anyone found a way to stay focused when your organization have a ton of great ideas and wants to do everything?”
Michelle’s question is thought-provoking because we can all relate to having way too many competing priorities, but we don’t always know how to mitigate them. In strategy roles especially, most leaders all deal with colleagues who get easily distracted by shiny objects, which can cause a lack of focus in our planning efforts. So what do we do about it?
During my presentation I asked the group, “Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You build an excellent plan. It’s rolled out in January. Then, by the first update in March, you’ve added countless projects and initiatives to the plan.”
There was a lot of head-nodding.
The problem? Most people mentioned that they don’t want to be the one to say “no” to a good idea. And, based on what I’ve seen over the past five years, I’d say that aforementioned scenario is what causes an overstuffed plan the majority of the time.
We all want to accomplish great things with our colleagues, and many times we have the champagne problem of having too many great ideas. However, I think we can all agree that strategy execution comes down to focus, and if you’re working on the “shiny object of the month,” focus wains on the more thought-out, strategic tactics – and your outcomes suffer.
This is why I say, be protective of your plan.
I feel there are two main ways of accomplishing this:
If you’re going to start saying no more often, you’re going to run into resistance. This is why it’s incredibly important to rally the support of an executive sponsor, preferably the CEO. If your CEO sets clear expectations around what can and can’t be added to the plan mid-cycle, it puts you in a better position to respectfully decline the request for a new initiative. If you’re still meeting resistance, you can lean on your executive sponsor to have the difficult conversation with your colleague.
I’m not advocating that you start saying no to every new item people want to add to the plan, but you need to start asking yourself, “Is this new item aligned with our core strategy?” If so, let’s chat about how to make it work. If not, we can focus on it this next year.
Project management and strategy are two different disciplines, but that doesn’t mean one can’t lean on the strengths of the other. One thing PMs do really well is to set up a process for change requests. You want to expand the scope of this project? Fill out this change request form and it’ll be reviewed by a pre-existing committee.
Why not take a similar approach to your strategic plan? The excitement of chasing shiny objects loses its luster once you have to sit down and write out the business case for the proposed change. Bonus: the objects that aren’t just “shiny” – but actual gold – will break through to the forefront, and can be added to the plan with more buy-in, motivation and planning than if they hadn’t made a formal proposal.
If you follow my two tips, you’ll start to get a better handle on your plan, and as one of the participants put it at the Minnesota event, you’ll cut down on “plan obesity.”
If this sounds like a discussion you wish you’d been in on, be on the lookout for future StrategyEXECUTION events in a town near you. It’s a great opportunity to network with folks who are experiencing the same struggles you face every day, and you can help chip away at the common barriers we as strategy execution experts are facing.