One of the primary guidelines I share with clients is;
Business context changes faster than you can execute anything important.
How relevant is that?
I just had a long term colleague depart from a senior corporate position. I asked him if he saw any warning signs. Apart from the reorganization that was the triggering factor, he saw a recurring theme.
The CEO would set out a new initiative for his department. They would work on it, and as they were nearing completion provide some initial feedback to the CEO. The CEO would let him know that it was no longer that important, and set out a new task. After enough of these episodes, he lost a sense of accomplishment and contribution.
This scenario is not unique to my colleague. Many organizations have similar issues.
Here are five lessons to be learned by any organization for dealing with the speed of change.
- You can’t successfully operate a business with executives focused on initiatives. They need to be focused on targeted outcomes, which is a translation of how the strategy can be achieved. A strategy doesn’t change nearly as often as initiatives.
With a defined, narrow, set of high-level targeted outcomes, it is possible to define the additional necessary interim outcomes. An executive can then determine the initiatives necessary to achieve that outcome. As conditions inevitably change, the executive can shift to more appropriate initiatives. This makes better use of key resources.
- Use a shared method to communicate the agreed upon relative importance of the top-level targeted outcomes. No organization has enough resources to achieve all the outcomes necessary to carry out a strategy. There must be agreement on the starting point for the relative importance of outcomes. This is what in turn points you towards the initial set of approved initiatives. The problem is that business context changes faster than you can execute anything important. Midstream you’ll to have to shift resources to the initiatives that support the now more important outcomes.
- Changed business context forces a change in execution behavior. For example, after some business change, you might be required to achieve the original targeted outcome:
- With an even higher level of performance
- at a lower cost, or with reduced management attention,
- with greater certainty of success,
- with a wider reach to increase the area of impact
- with greater buy-in,
- with increased sustainability or
- with greater measurability and transparency of progress.
- Keep everyone on the same page. People learn about change at different times, in different ways. Their managers interpret the impact of change for their team members, and they interpret what their manager has told them. The organization must have a method to identify and communicate how a changed business context impacts the high-level outcomes and Qualities of Execution. Otherwise targeted outcomes will not be achieved. That’s what seems to have happened with my colleague. Failure statistics for strategic programs are well over 50%.
- Manage down conflicting execution behaviors. Based on continuous interpretations of new business context, managers and team members change their expectations on how execution will occur and what the final results should be. Hopefully this means team members will change their execution behaviors. We all have met those people who don’t or won’t change their behavior regardless of the situation. They’re not reading this anyway and will randomly disrupt execution when their behavior is at odds with the desired Qualities of Execution.
You must keep everyone on the same page as per the point above. You can then identify the desired Qualities of Execution for everyone at the same time, in the same way. You now stand a chance of having complementary behaviors and increase the chance of successful execution.
Seeing conflicting behaviors is more often the case. You can imagine team members or a sponsor working differently to achieve an outcome;
- as fast as possible, and another
- at as low cost as possible, and another
- with as much buy-in as possible.
I call these “Qualities of Execution”. Any change between behaviors you used when you started execution to one of the new Qualities of Execution™ requires potential shifts. These shifts can be in many areas e.g. behavior, process, technologies, partnerships etc.
These conflicting behaviors lead to dysfunctional inter-actions and increase the likelihood of failed execution.
Here are six steps you can follow to deal with the speed of change.
- Start with everyone on the same page. Create an Outcomes Roadmap. Translate strategy into targeted and interim outcomes. They’re more executable than a thick strategy binder or PowerPoint presentation.
- Assign outcome coordinators to ensure accountability. Outcomes use resources from all over the organization. One person needs to coordinate achievement of each outcome on behalf of the whole organization.
- Focus on the most important things. Identify the relative importance of outcomes and the initiatives that support them. Attach resources to the most important outcomes. Manage how importance changes over time and shift resources as needed.
- Keep everyone on the same page. Use multiple types of media to communicate the updated Outcomes Roadmap. Use gaps in achievement of targeted outcomes rather than initiatives as the focus of status reports and meetings.
- Manage changing expectations and desired behaviors for success. Change occurs and is communicated through the Outcomes Roadmap. Use it to identify the Qualities of Execution that drive desired behaviors for execution success. Talk about the desired execution behaviors in your teams as they are required to change.
- Translate wins into normal operations. Deal with diminishing returns when nearing completion of an outcome. Be prepared to capture value and shift resources. Make management status meeting more effective by reduced reporting on historic important outcomes as outcomes of higher importance eclipse the old.
I’ve introduced these steps to many clients. They can be adopted by individuals for their own targeted outcomes, by project teams on a targeted outcome, or for an organization trying to manage multiple competing critical outcomes.
All of the above is required. The days of completing a project before the business context changes are long gone.