Sticking To The Plan

With today’s staffs running lean, the discipline of preempting distractions pays dividends.

When an idea is born, our first question is usually, “How do we make this a reality?” The answer is usually to assemble a small team to confirm the merits, package up a business case, get it approved, and make it happen.

That’s good when the idea supports the company’s strategy… but what if it isn’t aligned?

Unfortunately, some ideas are distractions. Even good ideas can distract from higher strategic priorities, and most companies are running too lean to afford distractions. If unaligned ideas gain traction and become projects:

  • Best case: The idea is stopped when it seeks funding approval. Damage is limited to the wasted time and talent of the project team. Of course, we never know what they might have accomplished if they had stayed focused on strategic priorities.
  • Worst case: The idea has enough momentum from the time, money and enthusiasm already spent that it gains approval and siphons off even more time and money. As a result, core strategies don’t receive full funding.

In either case, the performance of the core strategy is undermined.

Questions 1 & 2

Leaders can embed a critical test into their capital process. Even before assembling a project team, an idea must demonstrate strategic alignment:

  1. How does the idea support our strategic priorities? As I have said before, motherhood statements such as “grow our business” and “customer satisfaction” don’t count.
  2. What are the best arguments that the idea is a distraction? Flipping the question around can trigger new insights.

It should be very clear within the organization that this test will be applied when they come forward for approval. It should be clear to all project sponsors that failing this test can indicate the sponsor doesn’t understand the company’s strategy – an accusation no one wants leveled against them.

Of course, some non-aligned ideas may be truly worth exploring, possibly even become a new facet of the strategic plan… but that is a decision made by senior leadership before an idea rallies a project team and begins consuming time, talent and resources.

© Dave Wittenberg

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