How to Get Consensus When You Have Too Many Strategic Initiatives
By Jibility Customer Success Director Jonathon Andrews
Back in 2016, a major healthcare client called me in to run their annual strategic planning process. They wanted to rein in the spend of previous years, and so decided that all the Business Units (BUs) would now need to compete for project funding from a centrally controlled budget.
This was no small organization either: they had 4,000 staff and an annual revenue of AU$300m.
Too Many Initiatives
From the outset, it was apparent each BU had twigged to the reality that the allocated project budget would only cover a fraction of the group’s desired initiatives. Mentally, they accepted the importance of limiting the number of projects they pursued. But in practice, it meant the gloves were off and my work was cut out for me to achieve some form of consensus on which strategic initiatives would be executed in the coming year.
The Board had published their strategic priorities, which included typical targets around regulatory compliance, growing revenue and reducing operational costs. These priorities were applicable to all BUs and provided a common reference point from which I could start assessing the 70 strategic initiatives they had identified.
My first task was to capture baseline information about the initiatives. To drive consistency, I used a spreadsheet to store the name, owner, scope, budget and expected benefits. Each BU was asked to score each of their initiatives from 1-10 against aspects of strategic alignment and implementation risk/effort for the organization.
Strategic Planning Tactics
That was where the fun started. As the data came in, it was evident some BUs were assessing their initiatives objectively, while the less influential BUs were exploiting the process by overstating value and understating implementation effort. In fact, one BU scored all their initiatives perfect 10s for strategic alignment! In the absence of direct authority over the BUs, my polite requests that they revisit their assessments went largely ignored.
The other looming challenge was that the combined budget estimates already totaled three times the organization’s project budget.
My solution to addressing both challenges lay in facilitating an off-site planning day with the CEO and Executive team where each BU would pitch its initiatives to the group for relative prioritization.
Achieving Consensus for Strategic Initiatives
As pre-reading for the day, I pulled together a pack containing presentations, charts and tables describing the initiatives and giving a consolidated view of the initial rankings in terms of value (strategic alignment) versus implementation risk and effort.
The BU leaders flew into town primed to pitch. As I’d hoped, under the spotlight from the CEO and their Executive peers, the embellished scores were quickly exposed and moderated. The “Must Do” initiatives and the lower priority “Can’t Do Now” initiatives quickly revealed themselves. This allowed for more detailed debate on the cluster of initiatives in the “Zone of Contention”, requiring negotiation and CEO arbitration on the final call in some cases.
After valuable debate, the team reached consensus on the winners and losers; we had our set of prioritized strategic initiatives that I could hand over to the organization’s Project Management Office for sequencing and detailed project planning.
But the whole day had been exhausting. It had been non-stop between facilitating the discussion and frantically updating the spreadsheets and charts to screen a “live ladder” of which initiatives were in and out of the funding cut.
Strategic Planning Process – Jibility, a Better Way
Don’t get me wrong, the process we followed was sound and deemed a success by all involved. But how much easier, and cheaper, it would have been if I had access to a tool like Jibility back then!
Reduced effort and cost
The planning process took two months and required me to create and update multiple spreadsheets, charts and presentations to explain the method, capture the initiative data and communicate the outputs.
Jibility’s canvas would have allowed me to explain the planning method, capture all of the initiative data and present it from the single source.
Rigour and simplicity
After 20 years of consulting, it’s clear to me that an organization’s appetite for work will always exceed its capability to execute it. It then becomes a balancing act to determine how much time and money should be spent assessing prospective initiatives, knowing most of them will never actually proceed.
Jibility’s six-step method helps in this area by exposing the traceability of each initiative back to the strategic objectives. In this way, pet projects that sound great but don’t truly align can be identified and discarded early.
While it sounds good in theory to judge strategic initiatives based solely on independent scoring, it doesn’t work like that in practice because of the subtle human factors around culture and passion. Having some basic data is essential, but it’s no substitute for open discussion amongst the Executive to determine the relative merits of each initiative.
To this end, Jibility helps an audience to dynamically assess and re-position its initiatives in terms of value, risk/effort and budget to quickly achieve consensus.
Business priorities change quickly in response to market conditions and, logically, strategic plans need to be regularly tweaked too. It’s a pain to update planning information in multiple sources, so no one does it – and so the organization loses the common view of what they’ve agreed to work on. Jibility allows you to keep your plan alive by making it simple to update any components that have changed.
The need to assess strategic initiatives isn’t going away anytime soon. If your organization is struggling with the sorts of challenges described here, do yourself a favor and start using Jibility to gain consensus.