I often hear people say they are frustrated because they feel they personally can’t affect the outcomes of their organization. They believe that their actions as a single individual are insufficient to make a significant contribution to its strategic success when considering the size of the entire employee base.
This is not a surprising perspective. Organization’s are complex and often internal communication and leadership lack the precision of spelling out exactly what needs to be done by the various functions to execute its strategy. Most strategic plans lack the implementation detail that would enable individuals to understand their specific role in implementation. Plans generally tend to focus on WHAT outcomes are desired rather than on HOW they will be achieved through employee action on a day to day basis.
Here’s the step by step process I discovered that will ensure the actions of any individual are both relevant and effective in contributing to the strategic outcomes of any organization.
Strategy — You can’t contribute anything meaningful if you don’t clearly understand the strategic context the organization intends to operate within. You need to thoroughly understand the strategic game plan of your organization at the most granular level in order to define your specific role in executing it.
As I’ve said before, most plans won’t have the level of detail you need to define your contribution with any precision so you will have to dig for it. At this point in the process you are looking for insights into the plan that apply to you and your current responsibilities. And once you think you’ve mastered understanding of what the organization intends to achieve, ask leadership to ‘approve’ your view; their acknowledgement is key if your following steps are to be productive.
Initiatives — In this step of the process you’re trying to break the insights you have on how you can contribute down to the specific strategic initiatives the plan defines. At this stage, you want to identify the strategic initiatives that align with your position responsibilities and competencies. If you are in sales, for example, look for the specific objectives contained in the plan.
And if you can’t find any initiatives that relate to what you’re currently doing, ask leadership to help you out and define them (not a bad way to test their understanding of the strategy they helped build, right?). If you can’t define the specific sales initiatives, for example, perhaps the plan is deficient, and your question will be appreciated, or the expectations of sales are not clearly addressed and you can be a part of providing the necessary clarification.
Focus — Boil down the number of strategic initiatives where you could personally contribute to a critical few where you believe you can make a big difference. As the criterion for selection, look to those with bigger potential payoffs for the organization and focus on those.
My approach was to select no more than one or two initiatives and apply my energy there as opposed to scattering my attention over several action plans. The benefit for me was that I became known as an ‘expert’ of sorts in the specific strategic areas I chose which definitely helped me contribute to the overall plan; it impacted my future career choices as well.
Role — Draft the specific role you believe you can play in each initiative. Be as detailed as possible. At this stage, you want to define the deliverables you intend to produce with an applicable timeline. And link each deliverable ‘up’ to the strategy so that any observer of your actions will be able to see that what you do impacts the organization’s strategy; define exactly what the strategic impact of each of your actions is so it’s easy to judge your contribution.
Approval — Confirm the details of your role with leadership. Press them to agree that you are on the right track; that the initiatives you’ve chosen represent the higher priority ones and that the deliverables you’ve defined are in fact important ones to advance the strategic agenda of the organization. And ask for changes that would align your actions more closely with the program’s intent.
This stage could be a bit tricky because you need sufficient currency in the organization to be able to get an audience with the leaders who play an active role in strategy execution. Use your internal mentor(s) for this; ask for their advice and guidance to pull it off. If you don’t have the right leaders at the table listening to your plan, your personal contribution is in serious jeopardy. If you’re in sales, for example, do the appropriate back selling to get the appropriate sales leader at your approval meeting.
Sponsor — Find a leadership sponsor for your task — hopefully you can achieve this task when you present your plan for approval. You will achieve more progress with a ‘power pusher’ supporting your initiatives than without one (also you can use another mentor in your career, right?). Make the ask at your approval meeting, or better still, have the appropriate power pusher already lined up so they are an active participant in your approval process and step up for the job.
Be different — Once you’ve obtained approval for your action plans and have your power pusher supporting your efforts, look for opportunities to perform your role differently than what leadership expects. Show originality and new box thinking.
You’ve got this far by ‘sticking your chin out’ boldly to step up to taking on strategic initiatives, so don’t fall short of expectations by going limp in the results you deliver. This is an excellent opportunity to show them what you’ve got and if you do things differently you will be noticed; you will be taken seriously; your work will make a difference and your efforts will be rewarded.
Bandwidth — If you’ve selected your strategic initiatives right, you will have the capacity necessary to perform your role effectively. If you’ve been too ambitious, on the other hand, you may find yourself in a position of not being able to deliver what you’ve promised.
It’s absolutely critical that you have sufficient capacity to perform your role flawlessly.; that you don’t take on more than you are capable of delivering.
If you falter because your plate is too full no one will care. All they will see is that you blew it. Build slack time in your schedule to account for the unexpected tasks you will most certainly be asked to perform. If you find yourself in a ‘bandwidth crunch’ take a step back and reassess your priorities. Consult with your ‘power pusher’. Make the appropriate adjustments. Reset expectations with leadership. Move on.
Purge — To help build capacity, eliminate as many of your current activities as you can that don’t relate to your strategic role. You won’t have total control over this, but, use your ‘power pusher’ and their influence to reset your activity calendar to favour the strategic priorities you’ve chosen. Try to hand off as many mundane tasks that fill your job descriptive role to make room for the strategic role you’ve chosen.
Jagged edges — If you’ve reached this stage in the process you may be tempted to overdo it; to try and deliver the most elegant solution anyone has ever seen. Don’t get sucked into this mindset because you’ll fail. Elegance and perfection rarely can be found in anything so get comfortable with imperfection. And you don’t have the time to try to deliver the perfect anything. Plus, it doesn’t exist; it’s a waste of time trying. Be imperfect fast and often. Ship stuff; don’t study stuff to death. You will be judged by your output not your intellectual processing power. If you don’t do it, what good is the thought?
Teams — Show leadership and create a team to attack the initiatives you’ve decided to focus on. Involve all of the functions in the organization that touch on the challenge you have. You have a greater chance of making a valuable contribution when you have a number of resources at your disposal and not trying to get it all done yourself. For prospective team members, look for individuals like yourself who want to personally influence the strategic outcome of the organization and who have ‘fire-in-their-belly’ to do it.
Talk. Talk. Talk — Make sure everyone knows what you’re up to and the results you and your team are accomplishing. Use your ‘power pusher’ as your megaphone and use them to give updates to the leadership team that gave you the green light to proceed.
But never make the message narcissistic; make it about the organization and what it is trying to do and that your team is all over it. If others are encouraged by what you are doing perhaps they will get involved in a similar journey and your efforts get multiplied across the organization.
There is a way for the ‘average’ individual to make a personal contribution to achieving strategic goals, but it doesn’t happen through serendipity. It requires, in my experience, a disciplined and structured approach requiring passion, tenacity, a high level of energy and total commitment to see it through to the end.
Don’t ask to make a personal contribution; go get it.
Related: Grow Sales the Fast-And-Easy Way