Sunday, 22 April 2012

How to build executive alignment around strategic change

If you're struggling to get your strategic initiatives out of the starting blocks, it may be because your executive decision makers are not aligned around the strategic imperative(s) for change. If they're not conscious of what the real problem is, their underlying discomfort may cause them to pick holes in your strategic initiatives' business cases and plans instead. You'll know that this is happening when no amount of addressing their concerns by further research or additional planning satisfies their concerns about your initiatives - they just keep picking on new perceived problems.

When that happens, it is time to take a step back and:
  1. Highlight the similarities and explore the differences in their understandings of the strategic imperative(s) for change.
  2. Evaluate, prioritise and/or otherwise adjust the strategic initiatives on the basis of the understanding achieved in step 1.
Step 1

You can identify the similarities and differences in understanding of the strategic imperative(s) using a simple matrix. You can do this conceptually, or by actually drawing a matrix that looks like this:

Stakeholder 1
Stakeholder 2
Stakeholder 3
Stakeholder 4
etc.
Strategic imperative 1
Strategic imperative 2
Strategic imperative 3
etc.

You can do this exercise by interviewing all of your executive stakeholders individually, or by getting them all together and doing it as a workshop, depending on the team culture and how well it works together. It is important to try to put real colour to your strategic imperative(s) avoiding generic but unhelpful imperatives like "growth" or "cost-cutting" and getting into details such as "what kind of growth?", "how?", "where?" and especially "why?".

Once you've identified the differences in understanding of the strategic imperative(s) for change you can start to explore them. Some differences are knowable. That is, they are differences of 'fact', and once the true facts are established the differences of opinion go away (assuming it is done in a way which build consensus, rather than in a way which just 'scores points'). Knowable differences usually lead to further research to establish the facts.

Other differences are unknowable. These are typically opinions about things that have not yet happened and can't be accurately predicted. Where you encounter these, it is useful to construct scenarios which increase the level of understanding of what the possible outcomes might be, to build strategies which are robust across multiple outcomes, and to put systems in place to monitor or even influence the situation as it unfolds.

Step 2

Once you've achieved some measure of alignment, you can re-evaluate, prioritise and otherwise adjust your strategic initiatives. Again, a simple matrix may help, such as the one outlined below:

Initiative 1
Initiative 2
Initiative 3
Initiative 4
Initiative n
Strategic imperative 1
Strategic imperative 2
  • Scenario a
  • Scenario b
Strategic imperative 3
Strategic imperative ...
Financial attractiveness
(Organisational) ability to execute
Overall ranking

Note that in addition to the strategic imperatives and scenarios, you'd still also evaluate the initiatives against their financial attractiveness and the organisations ability to deliver them.

A simple High / Medium / Low ranking is probably enough for this purpose.

At this point if you've not yet achieved some measure of consensus around your strategic initiatives, you will have a pretty good idea of why not. At that juncture, you can turn the conversation around: if your stakeholders don't believe your initiatives will address the strategic imperative(s), then what kind of initiatives do they believe will? This turns the conversation for a negative criticism into a positive co-creation exercise.

What have been your experiences of building consensus around strategic initiatives? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.