"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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