Recently, I was talking with a business leader about his priorities as he was beginning to execute his strategic plan. He had laid in a great vision, the staff had been engaged in the process, there was a pretty good list of projects to accomplish, and they were ready to move forward.
Then, the staff was told their financial obligations….
All thoughts about the strategy were folded up neatly, placed in drawers, and put away for the summer. After all, we may need those again next year!
Does this sound familiar?
So, reality is setting in, the clock is ticking. Is your strategy now set to become a pure academic exercise?
Do you start by breaking down your business strategy into a series of projects that need to be performed? Or, do your brainstorm a potential project list for the year, and try and get through as many as possible?
For many, the list of projects becomes the strategy.
Obviously, this is high potential to show a disconnect. If the team does not understand the purpose of the projects and the overarching (strategic) objectives, the path of least resistance becomes a series of tasks that loosely aligns with the communicated strategy.
Talk with anyone who is ultimately measured on discrete metrics (sales or business development), and a list of projects that can be accomplished is much better than a “pie-in-the-sky” corporate retreat where you lose three days of productivity! A never-ending project list takes energy away from the team, rather than giving them direction and guidance.
The key must be connecting the strategy to the actions, activity, and projects that the team will focus upon.
First, limit the number of your projects.
According to Warren Buffett, you should limit your projects related to your strategy to a fairly small number each year. I have heard multiple recommendations of between 3-6. Personally, I prefer to limit projects to 3 initiatives.
Crisis, fires, hot items. No matter what you call them, there are going to be issues throughout the year that is going to take time from the team and yourself. If you do not allow for these events, fire-fighting becomes daily reality.
The second part of Mr. Buffett’s advice, and really the critical piece. You must resist the urge to add additional projects to the list, which dilutes the effort and impact of your team.
In fact, he was much more direct, “No matter what, these things [other priorities] get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top [priorities]…” (Scott, 2011)
By limiting the number of projects you are working, more energy, time, initiative, and (heaven forbid) planning can be performed against your strategic initiatives.
Additionally, by focusing on your key initiatives, you will be expending your resources on the activity that has the most impact on your business growth.
The methodology is straight forward and should be completed with your team.
This is where you brainstorm and come up with all of the potential strategic initiatives for the upcoming year. Include your team, and ensure that you capture everything. There are multiple reasons for this approach, and you want your team to take ownership of the process.
At the end of this step, ideally you should have 20-25 initiatives or projects.
More than likely you will have a good list of initiatives to consider. Group them together. Some will naturally fall off the board; however, the point to see what natural groups occur within the initiatives. Some will be similar, some will be radical, some will be evolutionary, and some will be naturally discarded.
This is where things can begin to get challenging. If you have had a good session with the team, there are likely to be 10-15 really strong initiatives to consider. Consider the pros and cons of each, what the potential benefit is to the business. Talk it through with the team, and narrow it down.
I recommend three initiatives; however, Mr. Buffet suggested five priorities. The key for this is to ensure that you limit the projects, and maximize the business impact.
The hardest part to this process is saying no to good initiatives and projects. Or, thinking that they can be accomplished with “extra time”.
In order for a business strategy to impact your business, the team must believe that it is achievable. Review at least quarterly to ensure progress, and no scope creep. The difficulty in this process is in being direct, ruthless, brutal in limiting your initiatives.
Using a physical analogy, it is much easier to break through with a point, than a broad surface area.
Enjoy the journey!