Organizations frequently get distracted from strategic initiatives, and consequently gain little traction against important performance gaps. The skilled leader sustains attention by continuously delivering small, incremental benefits.
Benefits Distinguished from Features
Early in my professional career, my boss insisted I take a class in effective selling techniques. There, I learned two important principles about benefits. I think they are key to effective leadership of strategic initiatives:
- Customers buy benefits, not features. Simply defined, a benefit is a “good thing;” whereas, a feature is an inanimate deliverable. Features are emotionally neutral; benefits provoke a response. I learned that good sales people focus on the benefits that are experienced by the user. Poor sales people spend their time presenting features.
- A feature causes a benefit to happen. Notice the cause (feature) and effect (benefit). While features are obviously important to spec writers and experts, there is a need to tell a story so that the visible features are not regarded as mind numbing technical detail but rather as the source of the benefit.
The classic example of the difference between features and benefits is drills and holes. A drill (feature) gives the customer the ability to create holes (benefit).
If you watch for the distinctions, you will see ways to improve the design of the strategic initiative. For example, a well-designed consumer product offers many clues to the benefit proposition. In the next paragraphs, I will explain their application.
Four Guiding Ideas for Defining Benefits in Strategic Initiatives
Here are four guiding ideas are helpful for defining benefits. Notice the leadership implications.
- Different stakeholders have different definitions and desires for benefits
- Recognize two types of benefits: economic and emotive
- Recognize that people prefer their benefits earlier, rather than later
- Partition benefits into compact, incremental releases
1.) Different stakeholders have different definitions and desire for benefits
Obviously, getting “buy in” from the various stakeholders is one of the primary challenges of strategic initiatives. Good leaders develop empathy for the stakeholders, and having some skill at stakeholder analysis is important.
In an earlier article on stakeholder and benefits statements, I explained how stakeholders perceive that their job responsibilities involve duties. They are constantly saying to themselves, “My duty is to ____.” You will improve commitment if you can link the benefits provided to their sense of duty. [Follow the links in that article read additional installments in the series.]
My advice: develop multiple value propositions for each stakeholder.
2.) Recognize Two Types of Benefits: Economic and Emotive
It is important to recognize that strategic initiatives involve both economic and emotive benefits.
- Economic benefits – Defined as those quantitative benefits that you can show in monetary units. They would include performance outcomes such as return on investment, revenues, efficiency. Economic benefits are typically lagging indicators and can be modeled with outcomes. They are more attractive to the mental processing of the left hemisphere of the brain.
- Emotive benefits – Are benefit that are processed in the right side of the brain that involve feelings and emotions. Examples are pride, reputation, credibility, and “coolness.” Emotive benefits are leading indicators.
Technocrats often restrict their definition of benefits to units of economic value. For example, the Project Management Institute provides the examples of “increased profits, improved operations, growth, or improved employee morale.” Those benefits are certainly desirable but don’t instantly accrue. We have to offer our stakeholders more than a business case. We have to excite them (or at least address their perceptions of risk).
Notice that I mentioned the left and right sides of the brain. We are more likely to sustain our messages with a holistic communications and management approach.
An ongoing task for the strategic initiative leader is convincing people to commit to a strategic initiative. Benefits are a tool for gaining that commitment.
3.) Recognize that People Prefer their Benefits Earlier, Rather than Later
This principle is straightforward and commonsense. These questions can help you:
- What is the smallest increment of work, deliverable, or benefit that is sensible?
- What do we want the stakeholder to feel?
- How could we immediately deliver this small increment?
- How could we create a series of releases of small increments of benefits?
Develop an operating rhythm within the program for early and incremental benefits delivery.
4.) Partition Benefits into Compact, Incremental Releases
I recommend you develop work packages (either within the project framework or the program framework) that are granular and linked to benefits. For example,
- A short feasibility study can provide assurances that you are on the right track (or need to rethink the vision or the design).
- A meeting with customers or a prototype can provide early feedback on the design.
Small quick wins will help sustain momentum. A plea to “trust us”or a directive to “watch the schedule” is risky.
What examples do you have of early and incremental benefits delivery?
- 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)
- Four Things Strategic Initiative Leaders Need to Know About Requirements (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
Copyright 2012 Greg Githens. You are welcome to link to this site, but please correctly attribute the words and ideas of the author.
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Greg an interesting post and hitting the nail on the head.
I suggest you look at the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) framework.
It provides a framework that at its heart talks of the best practices you discuss here. The process model provides a tangible and tailorable way to deliver the incremental benefits.
I will enjoy reading more of your pragmatic approach, thank you for sharing.
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