1: Our leadership team has gathered for our quarterly strategic planning meeting.  

We’ve done a check-in.  We’ve reviewed our annual goals for the year.  We’ve had a frank discussion about what’s working and what needs to change.  We’ve taken what we learned over the past quarter to come up with quarterly goals that will put us in a position to achieve our annual plan.

The next step is critical and perhaps unexpected.

“All too often, we come into an organization that is led from the top down with tight controls to ensure the team does what they are told,” write Mark Moses and his co-authors in Making Big Happen.  “The fallacy in this leadership technique is that our company will only be as successful as the ideas generated at the top.”

When the authors looked at the fastest-growing companies and most profitable companies, what became clear is “the ideas that are driving the growth are coming from the trenches,” they write.  “We are not talking about home run ideas that propel the company in a whole new direction.  Instead, we are talking about the day-by-day incremental improvements coming from all levels of the organization and from all departments that add up to tremendous change over the year.”

2: How do we create a culture where this progress occurs?  As a leadership team, we focus on outcomes.  For each annual goal, we create an “Initiative Charter” that outlines the desired outcome and metrics.

Then, we turn it over to a cross-functional team responsible for achieving it.  A member of the leadership team agrees to serve as the Executive Sponsor.

“By providing clarity on a focused set of outcomes to achieve in a finite time frame (i.e., by the end of the quarter), we are setting up the team to play a game they can win,” they write.  

“One mistake leadership teams often make in the quarterly alignment session is to put too much detail into the initiative charter.  It is a charter, not a detailed step-by-step plan,” the authors write.  “It is a delicate balance of providing enough clarity to the team to align them on the outcome (i.e., goal) and enough autonomy to enable them to leverage their unique skills and understanding of the business from their viewpoint.”

We must give plenty of autonomy to the teams responsible.  If the leadership team has “already broken down a challenge into the lowest-level tasks to perform, then there is little challenge left for your top performers to get excited about and to leverage their skills.”

“I had this tendency, as many founders do, of trying to solve every problem,” says Airfox CEO Victor Santos.  “We over-engineered the system at first. . . I learned how to let my team lead and give them clear instructions on where we are going but make sure they understood they had ownership and let them figure out the ‘how.’ That was a huge mindset shift for me.”

3: The team responsible for achieving the initiative will develop three to five key activities and the associated KPIs.  A key activity must meet these requirements:

o It is specific and measurable.  The key activity must be stated so that at the end of the quarter, we can say with 100 percent certainty that we either (a) achieved the initiative or (b) did not achieve the initiative.  There is no room for “maybe” or “sort of.”

o It is a critical element to achieving the overall initiative.  If each initiative were a pie, each key activity would be one slice of the pie.  Add the key activities together, and we complete the initiative.

Teams responsible for achieving the quarterly initiatives meet weekly for what the authors call “a Move-the-Needle” meeting.  There is a separate weekly session for every quarterly initiative.  “This is a down and dirty session with the team that owns the initiative—and they only discuss the initiative, period!”

The executive sponsor makes sure the meeting happens every week.  They review movement in the leading indicators on the Goal Scoreboard.  During the Move-the-Needle meeting, each team member reviews the following:

A. The actions they committed to taking since the last session

B. The impact these actions had on the leading indicator(s)

C. If they failed to take their committed action, the root cause and how they will overcome it in the future

D. Actions they will commit to take over the coming week to move the needle of the leading indicator(s).

One key to success?  We adopt a “test mindset” at every level of the organization.  As leaders, we must encourage our teams to experiment, take risks, and learn through failure.  

“For it is in these experiments, whether they succeed for fail, where the biggest impact to your company’s growth trajectory will occur,” the authors write.  “Have the courage to fail.  We often see companies that learn more from their failed initiatives.”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection: What opportunities do I, my team, or my organization have to push down responsibility and empower teams to take on essential initiatives?

Action: Discuss with my team or with a colleague.

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