7 Principles of Strategic Imperatives: Part 3

Unlike many of the concepts of effective business planning, Strategic Imperatives are something that many planners have never heard of. The idea of Strategic Imperatives, sometimes known as Strategic Priorities, Business Imperatives, Business Priorities, among others, have not had a long history.

The use of Strategic Imperatives is currently limited to the most forward thinking organizations, so if you can only do one thing to improve your business plan, focus on Strategic Imperatives.

6. Each Strategic Imperative Must Have a Clear Completion Date.

Although Strategic Imperatives are not projects, they do have a start and finish date. Strategic Imperatives are not operational, and they can’t go on indefinitely. Strategic Imperatives should change over time, and as Strategic Imperatives are completed, other Strategic Imperatives are started.

To build on the example I used in our last blog regarding “People Development” as a Strategic Imperative; it, of course is possible that at some stage in an association’s development the deliberate development of its employees may be a reasonable Strategic Imperative. But that Strategic Imperative must have well-defined boundaries, and clear objectives that can and must be completed in a reasonable length of time.

When those objectives have been met, the Strategic Imperative gets dropped from the list. Of course “People Development” is always going to be an important ongoing part of any operation, but it is no longer a Strategic Imperative. I see lots of examples like this in my work, including Strategic Imperatives around “Improving Member Service”, “Growing the Sales Force”, and “Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement.”

 

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7. Clearly define accountability for each Strategic Imperative.

Because Strategic Imperatives are strategic, we are talking about executive accountability.

The overall accountability for each Strategic Imperative should reside with one of the organization’s most senior people. But don’t fall into the trap of giving accountability for every Strategic Imperative to the ED or CEO. Yes, they have overall accountability for the vision and the strategy of the organization, but don’t forget we are trying to deliberately push accountability down the organization one step at a time, and Strategic Imperatives are the first step.

Although the accountability for each Strategic Imperative is going to be assigned to one senior person, there will be shared responsibility to execute it, as the associated actions move down the organization.

 

7 Principles of Strategic Imperatives: Part 2

Previously, we covered the first three principles required for effectively formatting, creating, writing, and managing Strategic Imperatives. Our list of principles continues below:

4. Strategic Imperatives should be inspirational

Setting up strategic imperatives are one of the first steps of using the strategy of an organization to drive action, and as such, they should be inspiring. Inspiration needs to be grounded in reality, avoid vagueness and feel good statements. To achieve this without speaking in platitudes, ensure each strategic imperative:

  • Is as specific as reasonable, given that it is strategic
  • Will be a stretch to accomplish without being so far out that it creates a sense of hopelessness
  • Is well written and presented in clear, concise language, without sounding like marketing
  • Is backed up with the underlying context and assumptions that were used to create them

5. Strategic Imperatives must be Imperative

This may go without saying, but do not allow items to creep into your list of Strategic Imperatives because it seems like the right thing to do.

Articulating even one Strategic Imperative that isn’t really imperative will weaken the whole set, and will sully the process. This is especially true if staff perceive that a Strategic Imperative has been included for political reasons, or that it’s just “lip service”. The first time staff and managers are introduced to the set of Strategic Imperatives, you want them to say “wow, those really are the most important things we need to accomplish, and I want to make my contribution.”

The best example I can give for this comes from my own experience helping clients articulate their Strategic Imperatives. In all the Strategic Imperative sessions I have done, almost without fail, the last Strategic Imperative on the list is titled “Human Resource Strategy” or “Develop the Best People”, or “Training and Development”, or sometimes just “People”. Now these are all great things, but are they imperative? Are they operational, or is it actually imperative that the organization puts a special time constrained emphasis on the development of its people right now?


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7 Principles of Strategic Imperatives: Part 1

Strategic imperatives should follow a specific format that are created, written, and managed with the following principles in mind:

1. Focus on “What”, leave room for “How”

This is a subtle but important part of articulating Strategic Imperatives. Employees want to be informed of the crucial parts of an association’s strategy and given a clear sense of priorities, but they do not want to be told how to do their jobs. This distinction matters, because if you want the Strategic Imperatives to really drive action, then you need association staff to get on board and work towards the solution themselves.

Focusing on “how” to achieve Strategic Imperatives, is restricting and prevents employees from coming up with the best approach for execution. By putting focus on what needs to be done, rather than how to do it, will produce superior results.

2. Define success but not how success will be achieved

This principle builds on number 1. What success looks like for each Strategic Imperative (SI) must be measurable, and specific, but not overly detailed. However, if SI’s are too vague, then staff cannot envision how they can contribute to a solution.

A successful board should be guided by those who bring different perspectives to the table.

3. Communication is key, be careful of spin

In fact, SI’s form a key part of communicating an association’s strategy to staff. This is what strategic imperatives are all about – bridging the gap between strategic and operational planning.

Create the initial set of SI’s completely without spin. Once senior management is united behind the intent of the Strategic Imperatives, then a version can be crafted and broadly communicated. You have a key role in ensuring that SI’s are created without spin, until a decision is made to create a communicable version.

During the process of creating Strategic Imperatives, senior leaders can become overly concerned with what people will think or how the imperatives will sound to staff. Do everything you can to prevent this from happening, otherwise the line becomes blurred between what is spin and what the actual intent of the strategic imperative is.

 

Stay tuned for more principles of strategic imperatives!

Recognizing the Planning-Execution Gap

The Planning-Execution Gap is a phenomenon that rattles almost every organization. The gap comes in all shapes and sizes, but there are important similarities, and you will usually hear people saying things like this: 

  • “We have a clear strategy, but we just can’t seem to execute.”
  • “We’ve been dealing with this issue for a long time, but we just can’t overcome it.”
  • “Only the ED understands everything that’s going on around here.”
  • “We try to be all things to to all people, and everything seems like a priority – but we never get anything done.” 

 

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A big challenge when leading your association through business planning, is bridging the gap between strategy and execution. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of helping your organization’s leaders articulate a nice strategy, but that doesn’t mean it can or will be executed. Many organizations will have a sound strategy at one end of the planning spectrum, and good projects and actions at the other, but the two just do not connect.

The participants in your planning process are human. Sure they would love it if they could execute their plans to move the business forward, but it takes hard work and many don’t really want to make the necessary changes to close the gap.

As a result, many organizations live with the Planning Gap because it is easier to “do” business planning once a year, and forget about it. Everyone seems surprised that very little actually got accomplished in the following year, then justify the shortcomings in a variety of ways, and repeat the process over again. 

 

Association Strategy: Challenging Assumptions is Hard

When it comes to making and executing strategy, it is human nature to want action. Association executives and managers are action oriented people and we crave execution. When we have a vision for where we want to go…we just want to get there. But is our need for action putting our strategy and our project outcomes at risk? Are we putting our association at risk?

As difficult as it is, we must all do a better job to clearly understand, state and test the critical underlying assumptions of our strategy and projects. First we need to agree that in order to believe our strategy or our project plan, we have in fact made some assumptions. Next, we must answer a few key questions and state our assumptions as clearly as possible:

  • To actually achieve our project objectives or vision, what would we need to believe to be true?
  • Whether we have said them out loud or not…either implicit, or explicit, what assumptions have we made?
  • If wrong, which assumptions are actually critical to our expected outcomes?

Finally, we must test our critical assumptions. This is the hard part because human nature means we would rather go ahead based on gut than find out our assumptions are flawed. Testing assumptions can be complex if the project is important, risky or costly. At the very least, try this:

  • Ask yourself the question: what is the one question I would rather not ask members or staff or volunteers until the project is complete? Now go ask that question?
  • Who is the one person that will be critical of this project and the assumptions we have made? Now go find that person and subject your assumptions to their criticism.
  • What is the most critical financial assumption we have made. Now go do the legwork and due diligence to prove or disprove that assumption.Assumptions Ahead

 

Continued Insight on Communicating Targets During the Financial Planning Process

This week we have some continued insight to guide you through the financial planning process for associations, and help improve your skills when communicating targets. 

So What/Do What

Throughout the planning process, do your best to provide some line of sight between the targets being communicated, and the work that people are doing every day. The communication must make it plain to each and every person why they should care, and what, if anything they can do about it.

The Importance

Your communication must answer these questions:

  • Why is it important that we achieve these targets?
  • Will something bad happen if we don’t achieve them?
  • Will something good happen if we do achieve them.
  • How will that affect me personally?

The Accountability

Who is accountable for achieving the targets? Many people may have a responsibility to do their part to reach these targets, however it should be clear who is ultimately on the hook for their failure or success.

The Plan

Most importantly, the communication should tell everyone what plans are in place to address each specific target. Be sure to point out any gaps in the plan, or where future planning will be needed.

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Communicating Targets During the Financial Planning Process

A major component of an association’s financial planning process is target setting. Targets have the ability to inspire an entire organization, and how they are set up can have as much of an impact on people as the targets themselves. Whether or not the targets will be successfully executed depends on how well they are communicated.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when communicating targets:

Clarity

The numbers have to be crystal clear. This is the time to avoid ambiguity or confusion about the workings of an organization. The only thing worse than not communicating targets is communicating targets that confuse the foot soldiers about what is truly important.

Context

The communication of targets (especially the high level, strategic ones) is a relatively top-down exercise. However, staff and managers deserve to understand the context with which the targets were created. People will be more inclined to buy-in and get behind the targets when they understand the thinking behind those targets.

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Consider the Audience

Depending on the audience (highly educated or not, blue collar, white collar, internal or external), and how they are positioned will make a big difference in communicating targets well.  

The Spokesperson

Who the communication comes from tells people a lot about the level of importance to the association. Divisional level targets should be communicated by the head of the division or region, whereas high level, strategic targets should be communicated to the whole organization by the CEO or ED.

Stay tuned for more insight into improving target communication skills.

Start the New Year Right: The Importance of Signing Off

Previously we’ve discussed how keeping progress moving, especially when working with a group, is crucial part of effective leadership. Well 2017 has arrived and with it, the opportunity for association professionals to start the year off on the right foot. A great way to this is by getting sign off’s (whether it is formal or informal), which will ensure everyone is in agreement before you move from one stage to the next.

By knowing where things stand, you have a much better chance of moving to the next stage of the process, rather than people trying to constantly revisit the stage you just finished. Getting a sign off can be as simple as sending an e-mail that says: “I am looking for approval to proceed based on where we are right now, which is…”

If you reach agreement in a meeting, write it on a flip chart, and have everyone grab a marker and sign their name. If there is any hesitation as to the agreement, you will hear about it.

As the person driving the process, you need to consistently test that you still have a strong mandate to move forward, and getting sign off at major process points is absolutely critical.

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Your Role in Effective Business Planning: Know When to Take it Offline

An important role in effective association planning is to keep things moving smoothly, so whenever you are working with a group of people and progress becomes stagnant, you feel bogged down, or when a high level of agreement on a certain point is required, it might be a good idea to take the details off-line.

When this happens we recommend the following:

  • Call a break, and talk to the boss – or better yet talk to the 2 or 3 people that are causing the deadlock, and ask them how they propose to solve it so the group can move forward. This works like a charm.
  • Ask who would like to work out the details and bring back a proposal to move forward.
  • “Park” the item to the end of a meeting, or a later date.
  • Suggest that you will take the item off line, and propose a solution.
  • Put a place holder in your document, and keep writing. Highlight it, so you remember to come back to it later.
  • Strive for “conditional agreement”. In a recent executive planning session, an exceptional facilitator asked our non-agreeing participants to list the conditions for success that everyone would need to see in order to agree to the proposal on the table. This not only highlighted the hesitation in the room, but also allowed us to move forward.

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Best Practices for Effective Vision Statement Sessions – Part 2

Last week we discussed the importance of a strong practical vision statement and 5 ways to go about facilitating sessions for it. Here is some continued insight into association planning and executing effective vision statement sessions for your team.

 

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Work in a group:

From experience I can tell you that articulating a practical vision statement is nearly impossible with only 1-3 people. There really is incredible synergy in the wisdom of a group. These leaders will need to define and execute the strategy to achieve the vision, and if they had a role in the creation of the vision, the chances of successful execution are much higher.

Include the right people:

The vision is owned by the senior team of any organization, in particular the CEO or ED. If the entire senior team can’t make it to the session, reschedule.

Take it off-site:

Take your team somewhere you won’t be distracted by everything that goes on in the office. Just getting away really helps give everyone a fresh perspective. In many of the organizations I work with, taking the team off-site sends a signal to the teams, and the other employees, that the work is important.

Work from the bottom up:

Although the overall process is more or less top down, describing the practical vision of the organization is the wrong time for a top down exercise. Using all of the techniques listed here, brainstorm as many components of the future state of the organization as possible, and then group all the things that fit together to come up with the main components of your practical vision statement. This not only makes a better statement, it ensures that everyone is heard, and that the vision of a few people isn’t forced on everyone.

Forget about spin:

This is a confidential session of the organization’s most senior people, which means everything should be on the table, and nothing should be sacred. Very specifically tell your participants that it is their job to articulate the true, raw, vision of the future. Repackaging and communicating the practical vision statement is a job for another day. When you see spin happening during your session, do your best to stop it, your participants will thank you later.

Stay away from strategy:

Although the practical vision statement is part of strategic planning, this is not a strategy. I can’t express how important this is: The practical vision is a statement of what the organization looks like at a specific point in time in the future. How we will get there will come later in our process. The entire business plan will depend on the foundation of a practical vision statement, so make sure it is solid.

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