“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” was the old cliché
that my English teachers inflicted upon me during my junior high school years.
Unfortunately, that only conveys part of the message. When discussing how to
lead your group forward in any technological innovation, it’s not enough to merely have a plan; you have to sell the plan. You have to get your
group to buy into the plan and be willing to make sacrifices in order to reach
the plan’s vision.

Failing to sell the plan will often mean having to sell
every action you take. Without a good understanding of the plan, most people
will assume you don’t have one and will approach each item as a separate
“stab-in-the-dark” attempt to improve things.

You need to sell the strategy in what you’re doing both to
your group and to the organization as a whole. From there, each tactical battle
is easier. The organization will already know the expected result and can
visualize the success of each tactic resulting in the goal or goals they want.

A strategy by any other name

Since I started with a bad cliché, let’s throw another one
in: “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” Whether you call it a strategy,
a vision, or simply a plan, it is still the overarching idea of what you want
accomplished. It’s a picture of what can be expected without all the implementation
details. The goal is to create as compelling a message as possible while being
realistic about what your organization can do.

That is not to say that you must build your strategies
without any component of effort. The bulk of your time in a strategy document
or presentation should be spent on explaining the vision you’re seeking. The
vision might be lower communications costs, or lower support costs. On the
other side, it might be a more agile enterprise so you can more readily adapt
to changing market conditions. No matter the vision, the purpose of the
strategy is to make the reader feel it.

One of my clients was seeking to reduce the amount of time wasted
by their technical staff. The strategy was to eliminate the travel time between
locations completely. It focused on utilizing existing mail transportation for
machine pickup and delivery, remote control software to show users how to use
their software or work through problems, and video conferencing to discuss
complex issues without leaving their office.

The vision was that they would effectively double their
technical capacity by eliminating approximately 50% of their travel time. The
strategy focused on the ability to delay the hiring of more technical people
and to provide more responsive (read instantaneous) responses to their users.
The strategy sold the idea of better support, less burnout, and a shift to more
proactive measures that ultimately reduce costs.

The strategy covered the barriers to the vision without
dwelling on them. Rough costs were established for each required step, but the
emphasis was on the impact of saving the organization money by not having to have
the salary of additional people as well as the impact of the higher levels of
support that the staff in the organization would feel.

Selling the strategy

The process for selling the strategy is to make the
experience at the end of the strategy palpable. They need to be able to feel
the effect of change in the organization or environment. How would you sell the
idea of instant tracking a shipment before Federal Express created the concept
so many years ago? Would the right way to do this be for you to role-play a
person waiting desperately for a part that they needed to get an assembly line
operational again? Would you have to play a game with them that involved
several people handing packages to one another and then trying to figure out
which packages started where?

The strategy must be concrete in the minds of the listeners.
It must be a vision that they want and can understand. The technically focused
audience of your IT team may need a different approach than the business
leadership. The business leadership may be focused on how it improves sales,
customer service, or the bottom line. The technical team may be more focused on
their ability to be in better control of their world.

Selling the strategy is often less confrontational than
selling a specific tactic. Instead of it being about asking for a specific
amount of money to spend on one small piece, you’re asking them to agree that
the picture you’re painting is the picture of a place they would like to go.
You can think of it as a travel brochure for a land they’ve never seen.

Tying in the tactics

Once you’ve sold the strategy and everyone understands and
has approved the vision, then all that is necessary is to tie your tactics into
the main strategy.

In the case of the customer above, they needed a higher
speed communications infrastructure than they currently had. The main
stakeholder in this case made the argument that they needed a high speed
infrastructure to reach the vision and also to prevent the need for hiring
additional people. The connection was already made about how the future would
look if they had fewer people, but with a better support system.

Each tactic is associated with and aligned to the strategy.
Its proposal is aligned around the idea that it is essential to be able to
reach and approve the strategy that has been established. The prospect of not
funding the tactic is to delay or prevent the success of the strategy. This is
something that few people will do easily. You create in the mind of the
organization the eagerness to approve the tactics so they can ultimately reach
the strategy.

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