You can increase your ability to build alignment and commitment for strategic initiatives by asking and answering what I call The Four Driving Questions, shown in this graphic. The order is important: first why, then who, then what and when.
The first question is, “Why are we doing this?” Answering this question provides an understanding and builds commitment for the program. Most important of all, the why question encourages people to think about the justification for the program. This is necessary both for funding the program and for creating alignment and commitment.
Asking “why?” encourages people to reflect and learn. Here are several questions that stimulate personal reflection:
- Within your organization: Why is this initiative important to me personally? Answer these same questions for your boss and for your business unit.
- For your alliance partners or other interested stakeholders: Why is it important for the individuals, their boss, and their employer? Why are my peers interested?
The second question is, “Who needs to be involved?” An experienced product developer told me one time that one of his most important insights was the rule, “Get the right people and get the people right.” The right people have the knowledge, skills, attitude for the specific needs of the project.
To “get the people right” points to the importance of team building. Jim Collins’ bestselling book Good to Great stresses “First Who…Then What” in Chapter 2. His research led him to conclude, “The key point is that ‘who’ questions come before what decisions.” If you get the people right, the vision will take care of itself. Collins observed that the best leaders “first got the right people “on the bus” (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.”
Since strategic initiatives often involve growth, Collins says, “Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.”
The third question is, “What exactly are we going to do?” Asking and answering this question helps to define and refine the outcomes and the means to get to the outcomes.
Strategic initiatives are typically characterized by ambiguity, and the reason for addressing “what” is that the answer to the first two questions will naturally lead to the answer to the what question. Here is the logic:
When we answer the why question, we are creating the motivation for the program (or at least validating the importance of the program). As we recruit talented people, they use their ingenuity to create outcomes and opportunities that top management might not have been originally considered during its strategy formulation efforts.
I have found that some traditional project managers are uncomfortable with ordering this question in the number three position. They are used to clear scopes of work, which are typical of incremental improvement efforts. As leaders, we have to help them get out of their comfort zone and into their learning zone.
The fourth question is, “When are we going to do this?” Ideally, we want to sequence the delivery of benefits to provide them incrementally and early. Practically speaking, the program manager will work to clarify deliverables and the benefits associated with those deliverables.
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These “four driving questions” are asked and answered in this order. (By contrast incremental innovations often order the question this way: when, what, and who. They seldom even asking why.) You will find that they provide a useful approach for structuring a strategic initiatives program.
How have you seen these applied? Do you disagree with the ordering?
- Advice for Strategic Initiative Charters (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Five Rules for Managing Complex Strategic Initiatives (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- The Strategic Initiative Leader: The #1 Success Factor! (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
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