Five steps to keep your New Year priorities on track (and reach your goals faster!)
It’s easy for companies to identify hundreds of projects that “need” to be completed. But it’s how you prioritise these projects that will determine your success. Now that 2017 is well underway, it’s a great time to check-in with your New Year priorities. Which key changes or Strategic Initiatives will you pursue to ensure you’re creating enduring social and economic value?
What is a Strategic Initiative?
Strategic Initiatives are the foundation of executing your strategy. A Strategic Initiative is an action or project that aims to significantly change the way you do business and, most importantly, connects to your strategy. Strategic Initiatives should be time-bound with specific milestones and have committed resources such as people, time and money. They are key to improving the delivery of your organisation’s vision.
For example, Caribou Digital is a company who specialize in building inclusive digital economies. One of their strategic initiatives involved starting a “Digital Financial Services Lab” team who work on creating a mobile banking option to connect lenders and borrowers at extremely low costs. This strategic initiative could allow potentially billions of people affordable access to capital markets while also improving Caribou Digital’s bottom line.
With decades of experience helping organisations drive strategic success, Palladium’s Strategy Execution experts have developed five time-tested ways to help your Strategic Initiatives succeed in 2017 and beyond.
#1 Distinguish between “business as usual” improvements and Strategic Initiatives
Define which projects are truly strategic and will help you reach your vision. Operational initiatives are projects that keep your business running as usual. Although they’re important - they keep the lights on - they won’t drive significant change. A Strategic Initiative should represent a major change in the organisation. For example, “pay out yearly incentive bonuses” is not a Strategic Initiative, but “redesign sales incentive program” could be, if it links directly to your strategy.
A helpful step is to write down every major project being invested in by the organisation. This make take some time, but it’s important to understand where you’re spending your valuable time and resources. Next, go down the list and ask “is this going to change the way we do business?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to manage this initiative as part of a formal process to ensure its success.
#2: Prioritise and decide what to stop doing
Most companies fail to execute strategy because the executives launch too many initiatives. Leaders need to focus efforts on just a few key initiatives. Look closely at your Strategic Initiatives - do you have the resources to execute each one effectively? If you’re honest, it’s likely you need to delay some initiatives or stop others completely. For example, if your company aims to create lasting economic and social value, you might realise that all your projects are focused on driving economic growth, at the expense of social impact. Gather your leadership team to vote on your top priorities and decide which can be delayed or are no longer relevant. Strategic Initiatives should help your organisation focus on achieving your vision, all lower-priority work should be set aside.
A great example of this prioritisation is Warby Parker, an American brand of prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses founded in 2010. Warby Parker revolutionised the eyewear industry by creating a profitable brand that generated positive social impact. By producing fashionable and affordable glasses that could be sold directly to consumers online, the company quickly found financial success. This success enabled them to donate an additional pair of glasses to charity for every pair sold. The company accomplished this by prioritising its initiatives based on a theme, and pursuing those themes sequentially: Lifestyle Brand, Value and Service, and Social Mission.
Rather than trying to do everything at once, Warby Parker’s leaders focused on the most important, fundamental initiatives – those which helped to build their lifestyle brand. Executing these initiatives first built their success and enabled them to achieve their ultimate goal – to create enduring economic and social value. Today, Warby Parker is valued at over $1 billion and has distributed over two million pairs of glasses to the needy. By focusing on the lifestyle brand initiatives that could reach their strategic vision faster, Warby Parker helped drive success in all areas.
#3: Stay accountable
Many organisations design a strategy and choose key initiatives, but don’t nominate a single individual to oversee the success of each project. Poor accountability is one of the biggest reasons why initiatives fail. Thankfully, the solution is straightforward.
Nominate an Executive Sponsor and an Initiative Owner for each Strategic Initiative. The Executive Sponsor gathers support and if needed, overcomes resistance from other senior executives. They also provide strategic direction. Initiative Owners are usually mid-level employees who are responsible for the initiative’s day-to-day execution. Having specific roles that are accountable for the success of the initiative is an effective way of making sure your initiative stays on track.
#4: Set a formal process for managing initiatives
To be successful you need to do more than just measure the success of initiatives, you must ensure leadership consistently empowers teams to succeed. Use a simple, consistent template to list the details, resources, and high-level milestones of each initiative. Then, ask the leadership team and key Initiative Owners to review your Strategic Initiatives at a regular meeting (preferably monthly). Make sure the purpose of these meetings are clear – you’re not there to simply review progress on milestones, but to discuss and eliminate key roadblocks and ultimately make decisions.
#5: Have a clear “definition of victory”
Go back to your initiative list and make sure you can think of a clear, concise outcome to be achieved at the end of the process. If you can’t clearly define this for each initiative, take a deeper look. Is that initiative still strategically relevant? Metrics for measuring the creation of economic and social value can be difficult to define, but as long as all stakeholders agree on what success looks like, you have a goal to work towards. Ensure every time a new initiative is agreed, it has a clearly articulated strategic benefit or gap to which it is designed to respond.
Reach your goals with your Strategic Initiatives
To reach your goals and generate any lasting economic and social impact, you must plan and execute your Strategic Initiatives effectively. With a strong movement towards the impact economy, stakeholders are demanding more than financial results – they want to see the growth of economic, social, and environmental value. Don’t get caught up with business as usual – focus on those few initiatives that will help you reach your vision. Ensure your team is accountable for executing these projects and they have the right support and processes in place to overcome any barriers to success. Finally, make sure everyone is working toward the same vision of success. With these few tips in mind, 2017 will be a year of success for your strategy!