FROM THE BLOG

Can Long-Term Strategic Initiatives and Day-to-Day Activities Co-Exist?

When a new initiative is rolled out in an organization, it’s often with a great deal of hype and enthusiasm. Everyone buys in and adoption is good, but then work life starts to happen. And that’s the problem with work life – there’s so much of it. The initial enthusiasm for the new initiative gets swallowed up with mundane everyday activities. Pile on top of that urgent matters that require immediate attention. Sometimes the urgent matters are problems – remedying a customer issue, dealing with an under-performing vendor or working with a wayward employee – but they could just as easily be a new opportunity that must be capitalized on now. These all conspire to drain needed resources from the new initiative. Many strategic plans, new sales campaigns and quality programs have died at the hands of work life.

What if there was a framework that you could employ during work life that let you navigate mundane activity, address urgent matters AND push everyone involved forward towards the overarching initiative?

In the end, the success of every new initiative is about execution. Execution that pushes the initiative effectively through the organization and into the work-a-day world of every executive, manager, supervisor and front-line employee. The Everyday Framework is a series of steps that reframes the mundane and the urgent and aligns them with the overarching initiative (if possible) and strengthens the organization. The exciting thing about the framework is that it’s easy to use for managers and supervisors and it’s easily “caught” so that everyone in the organization can apply it.

Reframe the Task – Stephen Covey reminded us to “Begin with the end in mind”. When navigating the mundane, fixing the urgent problem or capitalizing on the immediate opportunity, work to identify and verbalize how that task pushes the organization towards the overarching initiative (strategic plan, new sales campaign, etc). To illustrate, let’s say one of our new long-term strategic objectives is to decrease product delivery time from four days to two days for 90% of all orders. Today’s issue has to do with billing for an order from a brand-new customer. The customer wants to set up an account and be billed since they plan on doing more business with us in the future. However, upon submission of their billing information, we find some problems with their credit information and even find some unfavorable credit reporting in an industry reference publication. We could work with the employee who reported the problem to get this new customer set up and billed (and we should), but it would be best to reframe this problem and examine it in the light of our strategic initiative. In order to get this new customer his or her order in two days (in fulfillment of our long-term initiative), do we need to make changes to our order process to identify problems like this earlier? Do we need to look for a way to programmatically check credit reporting when the order is submitted online? Do we need to change the sales process so prospective clients with credit problems are excluded from the sales pipeline? Reframing problems – and slightly expanding their scope if necessary – attaches larger meaning to the problem and makes solving the problem tactical instead of operational, moving the organization closer to reaching its long-term initiatives.

Say No – Tied closely to the previous step is this one. If addressing today’s “new, great opportunity that must be acted on now” doesn’t push the organization closer to meeting its long-term initiatives, maybe you should just say no. Sometimes it’s difficult if the shiny new thing comes from someone at the top of the organization, but that’s the beauty of the framework. If everyone uses it, then every team member knows that every activity – mundane task, urgent problem or emerging opportunity – is subject to the same scrutiny. And if it doesn’t push the organization towards reaching the long-term initiative, the answer has to be “no”, at least for right now.

Put Employees First – This isn’t the right time for the “are employees the most important stakeholders?” discussion, but there’s no doubt they are an essential part of the organization. When urgent problems surface, they are, most of the time, screaming to be solved right now. Our natural reaction is to solve them ourselves or get them quickly to the person who can solve them best and fastest. What about using urgent problems as a training opportunity. Take an employee who has the requisite knowledge to solve the problem but has never had the opportunity and walk them through it as you solve it. Or pair them with the staff expert in solving the problem and let them walk through it together. It might take slightly longer, but afterwards you’ll have a deeper bench. If today’s urgent matter is an emerging opportunity, show the employee how you step through an evaluation to make the determination whether to pursue it further. This helps the employee to see how you evaluate opportunities in the light of the organization’s mission, vision, values and current long-term initiatives. If you give employees a raise every year, but never invest in their growth via training, your ROI on that employee diminishes – i.e. more money for an employee with the same skills.

Go from the Outside In – In the press to make to make problems go away or make the internal processes behind our mundane tasks easier for us, we occasionally make decisions that generate unintended consequences. Many times, the recipient of those consequences is not us, but our customers. By making life easier for us, we make it harder for them. Amazon famously sits an empty chair in every meeting. That chair represents the customer. It’s a physical reminder to make decisions that get the customer better products and services, make transactions more frictionless and deliver more value for their money. When problems surface, start with the customer perspective and work inward, navigating through the company’s internal processes. Solve the problem so the customer wins.

Start Small – Researching a new problem or sometimes navigating the most routine task occasionally exposes a much larger problem – one that is going to be expensive and time-consuming to solve. Since many times the problem is urgent, we’re tempted to throw resources (money, talent) at it so we can get back to business as usual. In the heat of the urgent moment is not the time to authorize a large expenditure. Jim Collins, in Great by Choice, taught us to “fire bullets, then cannonballs” – that is start small, spend the least amount of resources possible on a potential solution or opportunity, work out the kinks, prove our market or methodology then, after careful evaluation of the “bullets”, invest more heavily in a permanent solution (cannonballs). Don’t be pressured into long-term fiscal irresponsibility to solve a problem that’s causing temporary discomfort.

Be Accountable – The framework ceases to function if this piece isn’t in place. Every person at every level of the organization must exercise ownership for the success of the overarching initiative, the urgent problems that surface and the routine tasks of everyday work. Those who lead the organization must set the example, prioritizing their work so that urgent matters never overshadow important ones. Leaders must model the steps –

  • Reframe Daily Tasks in the light of long-term initiatives (a strategic plan, a new sales campaign, a new quality program, etc)
  • Say No to the daily tasks that don’t push the organization towards fulfillment of the long-term initiatives
  • Put Employees First by using immediate tasks as training opportunities, teaching new skills and how the immediate task aligns with long-term initiatives
  • Go from the Outside In by keeping daily problem solving customer-centric
  • Start Small by spending the least amount of resources on immediate problems and routine tasks thereby preserving resources to achieve long-term initiatives

 

Being accountable means owning a task until it is completed. It means taking responsibility for research, communication, execution, documentation and follow-up until every “t” is crossed and “i” is dotted. It means giving up the right to blame another employee, department, vendor or customer or counting on them to fix it. It means wringing all the learning out of problem or opportunity, so you can put the knowledge in your bag of tricks for the next time.

The Everyday Framework embraces Jim Collins’ “genius of the AND” operationally. Complete mundane daily tasks AND stay focused on long-term initiatives. Solve immediate problems AND develop employees. Evaluate emerging opportunities AND preserve resources to execute long-term initiatives.

Maybe I should have led with this, but here’s why the Everyday Framework is so important. Organizational growth, both financially and operationally, must be deliberate. Leaders often craft plans to make that growth happen. But, more times than not, those plans remain unexecuted because they’re simply overshadowed by the press of daily activities. Leaders can’t “will” their teams into execution, because team members lack the tools to balance or prioritize the conflicting demands of long-term initiatives and immediate tasks. The Everyday Framework is that tool.

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