October 30, 2013  /  Monica Heuer

Moving from strategy to action should be energizing.  It's exciting to have a clear direction, a concrete focus—at last, a way out of the wilderness!  But for many organizations, putting strategy into action is fraught. Some people just don't like the plan, others are unhappy with who was (or was not!) involved in developing the plan, and therefore dismiss it before it's even put into action. There's no question, though, that if you ask people what they think the plan should include, and loop back to make sure they know you heard them, they are more likely to want to be part of the plan in the future — and that can help your propel your strategy forward. If you think of each person you invite into the planning process as a twinkle or bulb, you are igniting the 'filament' that animates the whole culture by including them in the process.  So, how can you light up your organization? We think there are three things you can do.

First, listen in.  Take the time to really hear what people are (and are not) saying.  We worked with a medical school that was engaged in creating a Multi-Disciplinary Practice Group.  We heard a number of very obvious reasons why a Multi-Disciplinary Practice was a good idea—and through individual interviews, also elicited the resistance against the idea, which had to do with loss of autonomy, fear of being too connected to a group where relatively few faculty are the revenue generators, and worry that significant costs will harm their current, well-developed practices. We spent time organizing/understanding, analyzing and sharing the interests —both those where there was agreement and where there was not—so the stakeholders could understand the various perspectives. Rather than having hidden agendas, we pulled what was unsaid in the group out of the interviews and brought them to the table as live issues to be honored and discussed. In this way the discussion became more authentic as popular and unpopular opinions that would influence the decision-making process were discussed.

Second, engage. We took what we heard in our interviews and incorporated data. The data was targeted and revealing. We used what we heard about people's interests and concerns and identified data that support (in some cases) their hypotheses about what might happen and in other cases we demonstrated data that did not align with their worries. It might not change their mind (or position) on the issue of a Multi-Disciplinary Practice, but it would change the conversation. And one other thing, when there wasn't any data, we shared that as well. Not having data tells you something about your support systems and your level of understanding (or lack thereof)  of what is happening in your system and with your patents. We shared the data story we crafted with the core team, faculty and staff, leadership  and heard feedback. The feedback has helped us sharpen the message and reduce anxiety about what was/is happening.

Finally, look for opportunities to take action right away. The best way to slow implementation is to discuss, draft an action plan and iterate for months until everyone signs off. By then no one believes anything will happen and the actions are often so watered down that no one knows any longer what they are supposed to be doing to contribute to the strategy. In this case, we worked with the Dean to move to action right away on the Multi-Disciplinary Practice. He organized a Core Team to begin working on the Multi-Disciplinary Practice Group. Not only did that group work through the data and hypotheses that surfaced from the first discussion of people's different interests,  but they started working on ways to collaborate right away.

Change is constant.  Organizations must continuously adapt to change, and keep strategy fresh and relevant.  A new kind of listening to the very people you need to implement your strategy, engaging them broadly, and tapping into existing energies to propel strategy forward can make this process both effective and enjoyable.


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