Sunday, August 26, 2012

Strategic Execution

I'M GOING TO CHANGE MY APPROACH TO CLIENTS who come to me for strategic planning services.  Instead of me assuming that the process of building a plan is the most important part of planning (and of utmost importance to the client), I'm going to start by questioning the organization's ability and commitment to executing the plan once it's finally adopted.  My experience has been -- and I know this goes for other planning consultants, too -- the wheels fall off the plan when the organization actually has to implement what it says it wants to do.  Even when we spend hours creating detailed work plans it never ceases to amaze me that they are poorly used or not used at all.

It's often not for lack of desire that organizations fail to follow through on implementation.  How many of you have heard or said, "We think this is important, but...." followed by the list of what stands in the way of execution.  Top responses:  no time, no money, no interest; stuff changed.  What??!!  Didn't you just create a plan to address all of that?  Where was everyone during those conversations -- zoning out with a mental latte?

A lot of the time it's because there's no infrastructure to turn goals and strategies and all the rest into real actions -- even when the most basic tasks are identified.  Committees aren't in place or aren't active; boards and staff slip back into old routines and outcomes; comfortable cycles of activity aren't shaken up, rearranged or questioned.  Red tape isn't cut.  People aren't reassigned.  Or let go.

But peel back that onion a little further and what you generally find is a lack of foundational commitment from leadership to repurpose every aspect of operations in service to the plan.  If the board and staff aren't wholeheartedly ready to execute, a strategic plan just a bunch of words, a hollow gesture in service to no one.  We're talking sustained commitment here, not just for a meeting or a month, but for every day, for months -- and years -- on end.

So, I'm changing my approach to the planning conversation by talking about execution first.  If there's remedial work to be done, we'll address it at the beginning and we'll keep reminding ourselves about it (and planning for it) as we move through the process.

How have you managed the risk of execution failure?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Marathon that is Board Service

OKAY, I'VE BEEN OVERTAKEN BY THE 2012 OLYMPICS, hence the title for this post.  As I watched the men's marathon today I couldn't help draw some parallels between the long race and my own relatively new service on a nonprofit board.  People who know me know that I'd have trouble running up and down my driveway, but this comparison helps me grasp what I've been feeling lately about living up to my board's expectations even when it was hard for me to do so.

Respect:  The first parallel has to do with why any one of us decides to join a board.  Jason Karp writes about marathoning, "Tackling 26.2 miles is a long way to run. Respect the distance and prepare for it. Confidence comes from being prepared."  Most of us take on board work because we believe we bring some talent to the table -- we have a passion for the cause, our knowledge and skills complement and strengthen those offered by others, and/or we provide access to needed networks and funds.  We agree to occupy a seat that brings with it a variety of challenges along with great emotional and intellectual rewards.  We need to respect the fact that, once we say yes to board service, we're in the race for several years.  Are we prepared for it?

Training:  Serving a board term well requires unflagging commitment.  It's not just about showing up for meetings and events -- it's about showing up prepared and ready to participate.  It's about taking leadership when given it; exerting leadership when there's a void.  It's about turning others on to the work of the organization with our enthusiasm and engagement.  It's about making time to hone our skills and knowledge so we can bring our A-game over and over again.

Pacing:  Some of us start our board service by quickly establishing ourselves and our expertise.  We want to make a mark and leave no doubt that the nominating committee was brilliant for recruiting us.  Or we're given an assignment right out of the starting gate that requires immediate attention.  It may not sink in until much later that we're running a marathon, not a sprint, and that pacing and strategy are the keys to longevity and impact in the boardroom.  

The energy of a board may seem slow moving to the sprinter.  It's a deliberative body that needs time, information, and a good bit of care to achieve its best results.  While they clearly must perform in the present, boards must keep one eye focused on a distant horizon.  Board members who fail to understand this will burn themselves out too quickly or quit the race out of frustration. 

The board service marathon is not for the faint of heart.  Not if you're in it to win it.

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