I’m at a conference, listening to a round table discussion on strategy implementation. The bottom line from the heads of strategy at corporate headquarters of BP, Orange, BAT and Compass:
- Trust people
- Review dashboards that show metrics of results
- Integrate strategic planning and budgets
- Track outcomes vs. just actions in strategy execution
So, do we do these things?
I was with our Latin America director last week. He and his team have a strategy. So now what?
One of the biggest reasons for having a strategy is so that the staff working with you know what to do every day. They are only going to know the new strategy if it is communicated to them.
The guys on Madison Avenue (the center of the US advertising industry) know that someone has to receive a message 7 times before they internalize it. If it takes 6 repetitions to remember what brand of toothpaste to buy, then it will take at least that for someone to understand the strategy of your organization so that all their decisions are based upon it.
The strategy can be communicated in the following ways at different times:
- References to the strategy in EVERY presentation
- Video summary on YouTube / Vimeo with link distributed to all staff
- Articles in in-house newsletters
- Roadshow with live presentations
- Measurement of a key metric of the strategy
- Cascading e-mail, with group discussions at all levels
- Incentives / competitions
- Internal social media articles and discussions
This communication will need to come from different people so that the staff recognizes that it is not just your hobby horse. The strategy can be communicated by:
- the CEO
- Department / Division heads
- Success stories from the field staff
- Peer groups on internal message boards / social media sites
One of the best books that I have read on the importance of this subject is Simple Church. Check it out.
By asking questions, the CEOs for whom I worked always seem to figure out if I was doing the best thing for the organization even without knowing the details of the project I proposed. They had a knack for figuring out when I had not done my homework to maximize the benefits to the organization and minimize the risks.
I noticed that they just asked a series of really good questions. Their job was not to know how I did my job. Their job was to make sure that I really knew how to do my job to the extent that they could trust me to carry it out successfully.
The sort of questions that they would ask to determine if I know my job included:
- What does the customer want?
- Why does the customer want this?
- What are the alternatives for the customer?
- Why would the customer want our product rather than alternatives (e.g. from our competitors)?
- How is our organization going to meet its objectives through this project?
- How could those benefits be increased?
- What are the alternatives to implementing this project?
- Which alternative provides the greatest benefit for our organization?
- What implementation process are you going to use?
- What is the next phase for implementation?
- What are the costs of this next phase of implementation?
- What are the technical risks to the project?
- What is the impact if the project takes longer than we expect?
- What is the impact if the project costs more than we expect?
- What is the impact if the customer buys fewer products than we expect?
- How can each of these risks be mitigated?
Obviously, in a commercial organization the objectives for the organization were financial, and the benefits, costs and risks would all need to have their answered in economic terms. However, in a not-for-profit organization, the objectives, costs and risks can all be stated relative to the Mission of the organization, or in progress towards achieving the Vision.
If I could not answer these questions then I clearly did not know my job, and I would not get approval for the project.
If I could answer all of these questions there was a much better chance that the project would be approved.
Having said all of this, I have concluded that the hardest question that a CEO could ask me would be: “Show me how you will make the most effective progress toward achieving the Vision of the organization.”
I was asked for more explanation on the differences between Outcomes and Objectives.
- The Outcome is the effect that we want to see happen in the lives of our clients.
- The Objective is the thing that we must achieve in order to cause the results in the lives of our clients.
- Outcomes are written independently of us.
- Objectives are written to tell us what we must achieve, so they are written for us.
My boss put it like this: A simple way to differentiate between Outcomes and Objectives is that Objectives focus on intended results, whilst Outcomes focus on achieved results. Objectives also clarify how we get to the Outcomes; what needs to be accomplished in order for the Outcomes to be achieved.
Outcome based thinking has become standard in much of the commercial world. For example, businesses are much more focused on levels of customer satisfaction than the wait time on customer service phone answering systems. Wait time on customer service answering systems would have an impact on customer satisfaction, but if you can achieve customer satisfaction by some completely different means (e.g. change product design to have few faults, use live chat customer service rather than phone calls) then the end problem is solved.
As a result of this, some major donors to Christian ministry in the US have made donations dependent upon outcomes rather than activities. The first example I heard about was the McClellan Foundation, that was funding the Book of Hope ministry. Book of Hope was distributing Bibles in the developing world, and was being funded along the lines of “$x puts y Bibles in the hands of z children”. This led to a mentality of “our job is to distribute Bibles” regardless of their impact on people’s lives. The McClellan Foundation said it didn’t want to fund Bibles being distributed, but to see children who follow Jesus in the target countries. As a result of this, the Book of Hope ministry changed its emphasis to distribution of Bibles and teaching from them. Continued funding from the McClellan Foundation was dependent upon before-and-after qualitative surveys in the target demographics. Prior to the project a survey is taken asking key questions (e.g. Do you know who Jesus is?, Do you lie to your parents?). After the ministry the survey is taken again, and the impact of the ministry on the children is assessed.
From a leadership perspective, I think that Outcomes are better goals to set for staff because they give more freedom in implementation by the staff in order to achieve the desired end result.
Some more specific examples of Outcomes vs. Objectives:
- Outcome: Everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.
- Objective: Spiritual movements launched everywhere containing people who truly follow Jesus by end 2020.
- Outcome: No Eastern Europe staff leave our organization because of lack of funds.
- Objective: 100% of Eastern Europe staff are fully funded by Dec 31 2016.