Many organizations have a performance gap in their cost structure. They launch strategic initiatives and business transformation initiatives to close that gap (drive down cost).
There are many good learnings from a major IT transformation initiative at a $42 billion (operating revenues) integrated healthcare system located in California. It was a significant endeavor, affected 1,000 locations across 8 regions and involved resources from 10 departments. The program was composed of numerous projects, overseen by 27 project managers. The result was saving millions of dollars and providing new service capabilities. Further, the program completed early and exceeded the cost saving target by 155%!
Phil Patrick championed this effort. You can read his first-hand account in Page 24-25 the August 2011 issue of PMNetwork. Phil described 5 key actions:
- Align with the executive visions.
- Assemble a skilled exploratory team.
- Present a compelling action plan.
- Obtain organizational buy in.
- Build high-performance project teams.
Phil agreed to an interview with me. Here are some more leadership learnings for strategic initiatives.
An Example of the Power of an Elevator Speech
Phil’s PMNetwork article starts with the line, “It all began with a chance elevator speech.” Elevator speeches are superb tools for the strategic initiative leader. The simple idea: have a concise, confident message for top managers that grabs their attention and curiosity.
Rather than this being a chance meeting, I think this was where “opportunity meets the prepared mind.” Phil had been thinking about the opportunity to save millions of dollars with his idea, and the executives had been supplying a vision for cost savings.
Using Stories to Reinforce the Strategy
The chief story teller leadership role resonated with Phil,
“It’s important to pay careful attention to the vision and key strategies presented at C-level meetings. I repeated my story of my elevator-speech encounter with the senior VP to motivate the project team with a reminder of the higher good we were achieving by completing our day-to-day tasks and activities.”
You Can’t Assume Your Boss is Strategically Aligned
Most people tend to assume that their boss knows the organizational priorities and will share them. Ideally, there is a cascade of consistent messages and metrics. However, that assumption does not always hold true. This is one such example. Phil told me,
“The team developed a document that quantified valuable cost savings, which I was in the habit of attaching to a brief summary of the meeting discussion that I distributed to my boss, my boss’ boss, and other senior managers in the organization. I never received an email, any inquiry or even a passing comment from my boss prior to his phone call informing me that his boss was interested in meeting with me to learn more.”
The boss is not always plugged into strategic priorities. I think Phil’s courage and strategic thinking are exceptional! Leaders must not assume that their direct boss understands or supports the strategies coming out of the executive suite.
In the past, Phil said he had not paid close attention to visions and strategies coming from the top executives; his operational focus was a comfort zone. One of his important personal learnings was this:
“Everyone should pay attention to key strategies/vision.”
Persistence and Determination
Phil had to develop the business case for this initiative on his own time! As I described in my article on Six Leadership Traits, strategic initiatives are
driven by inspired and determined individuals who will not take no for an answer and who often have to swim against a current of corporate indifference, if not outright resistance.
I asked Phil, “What is it about you that made you so determined?” He said,
“I had a meeting with my new manager. He told me some things that suggested the department would be taking a different direction, and my role was uncertain. The uncertainty of my future created an urgency to find ways to contribute and add value to the organization. As the reality settled in, one of the engineers on my weekly status call shared with me the heightened executive level interests in network cost savings.”
Early Benefits Delivery
Phil kept a strong focus on benefits. He explains, “In the first year, our customers began expressing approval as they began to see cost benefits.” The team was able to deliver more than simply economic benefits, for example, they provided bandwidth-on-demand technology that gave benefits to medical teams. This technology allowed a neuropathologist to remotely view brain tissue in high-resolution and provide expert advice to a surgeon in the operating room.
What other strategic initiative leadership lessons are present? How do you stay alert to strategic opportunities?
- Know The “Follow-The-Money” Story. How was Your Strategic Initiative Funded? (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- A Powerful Idea for Your Strategic Initiative: Program = Brand = Trust (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Advice for Strategic Initiative Charters (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)