Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

Mid-year is that time where you look ahead to the year’s end while simultaneously reviewing this year’s plan and wondering how everything will get done by December 31. That leads to asking, “What would happen if we don’t get everything done? Didn’t we put too many things into the plan, anyway?”

Sound familiar?

5 Areas to Get Stalled Strategic Planning Initiatives Moving

I used to go through this routine repeatedly until I realized that I lacked a standard checklist of project assessment questions to use when a strategic planning initiative is behind schedule. I guess I was recreating the question set every time I needed it.

To spare yourself and everyone around you the hassles involved with not working from a standard set of questions, you can use the following routine this week, and in the years ahead, to standardize your diagnoses and approaches to floundering projects.

Rank the Suspected Causes

The first step is to assess the potential reasons why a strategic planning initiative hasn’t started within the time frame you originally planned. We recommend making a quick assessment. Our approach is to rank potential factors based on which you think are the most-to-least significant in delaying launch. Some typical factors you may consider:

  • The initiative’s importance or fit within the plan is off or no longer relevant
  • The leader and/or team on the initiative isn’t the right one
  • There’s an issue with the structure of the approach the team is taking to the initiative
  • There’s an issue with the size or scope of the initiative
  • Resource availability or levels are a roadblock
  • Some other reason is creating the roadblock

Ranking these factors, 1 through 6, helps prioritize your starting place to address the initiative’s delay. One ground rule: there can be no ties in your ranking. Not EVERY item can be the #1 reason. Force quick priorities so you can begin addressing the important issue as quickly as possible.

After completing the assessment, work through question-based checklists on the most significant factors. These are our starting questions in each category:

#1. The Importance or Strategic Fit Is Off

If changes in the internal or external environment are now calling into question a delayed initiative’s importance, ask:

  • Are there ways to simplify or change the initiative’s direction to increase its relevance?
  • What has changed in the underlying business strategy that impacts the need or interest in moving forward? Will the strategy change back (or again) soon?
  • Are specific reasons for moving forward more important than others? If we focused only on those reasons, how would we adjust the initiative?
  • If we don’t move forward with the initiative this year, what material impact will it have on attaining important goals and objectives?
  • Would we be better to divert focus from this initiative to other initiatives? Would we benefit more from diverting focus from other initiatives to jump start this delayed one?

#2. Leadership or Team Issues

Maybe the leaders or team expected to develop an initiative aren’t the right fit. This scenario prompts a variety of questions:

  • Is the initiative under-staffed? If we put more people on it, what will that change?
  • Does the team have challenges working together? Who, among the team members, needs to change in order to fix those issues?
  • Are there parties critical to developing or launching the initiative who haven’t been included to this point? Will involving them now help address these delays?
  • Are there people whose participation would have an immediate impact on moving forward?
  • If a major change in the team is needed, who from the current team should remain, in order to provide the right degree of continuity?

#3. An Issue with the Approach

In some cases, a struggling initiative makes sense, but delays in getting started are impacting the effectiveness of the original approach. Consider:

  • Is there a smaller effort or pilot related to this initiative that we can use to get progress (and results) going as soon as possible?
  • If there are uncertainties with the approach or the current environment, can we start with a part of the initiative that we could easily change or adapt later?
  • Are there steps we can easily remove (with disproportionately less impact) to streamline the development time?
  • Did we miss the order of steps we identified to launch the initiative? If so, is that fixable?
  • What initiatives have we previously completed that we can repurpose to accelerate progress?
  • Have we exhausted all the leeway in the original schedule? Do we (or can we, even) negotiate for more time?

#4. The Size or Scope Is an Issue

The delay can mean that the original planned initiative is now too big or small for current needs. Ask:

  • What are the areas in which to naturally modify the initiative, so it makes smart, strategic sense?
  • Are there nice-to-haves within the initiative that we can easily eliminate?
  • If the initiative isn’t going to have a big enough impact at this point, what changes do we need to make in order to minimize the gap?

#5. Resource Availability

Another factor that can slow progress is resource mismatches. Scenarios to think about:

  • If we put more money or other resources at this initiative, what type of impact would it generate?
  • Can we couple this initiative with a different, active one, so that they can leverage common resources?
  • What resources can we grab or repurpose from other initiatives and work them into this one?

First Ask, then Answer about Strategic Planning Initiatives

We hope that you’ll find this list of questions helpful in conducting any mid-year initiative reviews you need to do to make sure you deliver the most important aspects of this year’s plan. – Edited from Inside the Executive Suite

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I was at a church vision council’s meeting recently. The relatively new group is overseeing implementation of the church’s strategic plan and progress on it updated mission. That evening, the group was discussing alternative strategies to improve the church building and grounds. Looking at various plans, their conversation focused on the building activities in each plan:

  • The number of meeting rooms
  • The number and sizes of offices
  • Minimum hallway widths for accessibility
  • The types of dividers and doors to provide flexible room sizes
  • Which buildings might be torn down to enable new construction

Their discussion turned to how parish members might react to the various options and whether they’d support a building initiative.

via Shutterstock

My caution to the group was that, from the first stages, members need to be careful about the language they use to discuss the building initiative.

The group faced the classic features-benefits trap; their building project discussion was only about features.

Customers Write Checks for Features, but Buy the Benefits

They were ignoring the benefits: how each plan would dramatically expand the parish’s ability to realize its mission of prayer and service. Beyond the numbers of rooms and wall finishes, THAT is the important benefit from the building initiative. While the parish (and its members) will write a check for buildings and infrastructure, they are buying an experience. They are buying the ability to better help parishioners and all those they will reach out to with assistance to realize a closer relationship with God.

It’s easy for any organization to fall into that same features-benefits trap with its marketing and sales messages: While customers pay for features, they are buying the benefits.

That is why it is so vital to make sure you identify and articulate benefits that are clear, vivid, and important for your potential customers. – Mike Brown

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Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!

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We’ve talked here about how Idea Magnets make life more exciting, fulfilling and successful, thanks in large part to their unflagging creativity.

Yeah, about that: it only appears to be unflagging.

It flags, my friends. It absolutely flags.

But Idea Magnets know this, and expect it, and they have ways of addressing it. In her seminal book on the subject of creativity, The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron (affiliate link) refers to this concept as “filling the well.” To put it simply: repeated output results in depletion. In order to create, we require creative fuel.

I found this book during my first year of college. It completely changed the way I approached my own creativity, and much of that comes down to a commitment to filling the well. Ideally, I replenish my creativity in small, continuous ways. But that’s not always practical. So when I feel that flagging feeling coming on, I choose one (or more) of the items on the list below and apply liberally to the affected area, as it were. When you magnetize your life like this, things get better pretty quickly.

Curate the things that spark your creativity.

Pinterest is an ideal tool for this. If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it’s a site where you can collect (“pin”) images onto different “pinboards”. You can create as many boards as you’d like, and you can decide what, if any, themes each board follows.

Some of my boards

A look inside one of the boards seen in the previous image.

Of course, you could also opt for a regular, physical scrapbooks using images culled from magazines or anywhere else. Playlists are another great way to curate the music that makes you more creative. Whether you use Spotify, YouTube, or place that needle carefully on a much-loved record, music is excellent for filling the well. Finally, one of my favorite ways to gather the things that stoke my creativity is simply to put pen to paper and list them all. (I’ve done this most of my life; there’s something powerful and exciting about seeing so much potent creativity and joy named on a page in your own handwriting.) A young Nick Cave created the following list of his influencers and sent it to a reporter who’d just interviewed him:

Shift your point of view.

This is something that can be done figuratively — for example, by viewing your situation or project through the eyes of an artist you admire, or literally — by taking a walk and allowing yourself to get “lost” in a place you don’t normally walk through. You can get even more literal by climbing a tree and noting the the things you miss at your usual height, or by lying on the couch, letting your head hang down over one end, and examining your daily view of your home from that angle. It sounds silly. It is silly. But it’s also effective.

Get out of your head.

Do something that requires you to use all of your focus. Painting, woodworking, gardening, knitting, and surfing are all great ways to get out of your head and let your skills and instinct lead you. You might also consider stretching, exercising, meditating, cloudgazing, stargazing, or gazing into a nice roaring fire. Sometimes a vacation from our relentless thinking can work miracles.

Get out…period.

Visit a museum and fill your eyes with art. Get to the beach, the forest, the mountains, the desert, the open field. Breathe. Wander through an estate sale or a thrift shop. Visit a craft store and imagine trying completely new types of projects. Head to your local farmers’ market and take in the sights, sounds, and scents. See what classes are offered in your community and try something you’ve never done before: ikebana, weight lifting, ceramics, Zumba?

Magnetizing Your Life

Ideas can and do come from everywhere. And Idea Magnets need ideas in order to function properly. Our creativity demands it. It needs to roam and gather up fragments of this and that to use as fuel. That’s why practices like these are critical. At first they may feel strange or silly. But you’ll find that as you continue to make it a point to fill the well, you’ll begin attracting more and more ideas, and better ones, too. Idea Magnet to Idea Magnet, I promise you. – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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Today was webinar day, as I covered the keys to creating social-first content to stop boring your audience in conjunction with PowerPost. Among the ideas we shared were:

  1. Getting past the management belief that your audience wants to hear about your brand
  2. Telling stories as if your online presence were the company campfire
  3. Developing stories with a three-part, social-first formula
  4. Speaking to specific individuals through your brand’s stories
  5. Ensuring every piece of your online content delivers at least one of five vital benefits for your audience members
  6. Sharing stories for customers at all the places on potential customer journeys
  7. Involving customers in the stories your brand tells
  8. Finding the cool in your brand and bringing those aspects of your brand personality into social-first content

Listeners walked away with a wealth of actionable ideas to shape and improve how you develop and share stories that stop boring your audience. Download our Social-First Content ebook to get your hands on these same types of tools! – Mike Brown

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Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

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This matrix on 4 ways your organization can deal with major issues is DEFINITELY courtesy of the Brainzooming R&D lab.

Going back through notes and strategic planning posters from previous client engagements, I came across a big easel sheet. It was used during a particularly long and particularly challenging strategic planning workshop. The notes all pertained to tackling elephant in the room issues. These are issues inside an organization that everyone knows about (and will discuss in private) but that are NEVER discussed in meetings or any type of formal group setting. For this organization, which was undergoing a significant transition, many years of micro-managing resulted in at least one huge page’s worth of elephant in the room issues.

4 Ways to Address or Avoid Major Strategic Issues

That combination of knowing and discussing major issues led me to wonder: What are all the potential combinations of an organization knowing and discussing major strategic issues? That thought experiment is played out in this matrix.

You can see the elephants in the room in the lower right. Blind spots are in the lower left; these are the issues in the organization that are narrowly known and discussed. Failing to uncover issues the organization (and especially its leadership) doesn’t know, but that are very real, typically poses a significant threat.

Speculation occurs when there is a lot of chatter about issues that some might suspect, but for which most of the organization lacks any solid facts.

The upper right – the best quadrant – is transparency, where there is a reasonable balance between knowledge and discussion about major issues within an organization.

Did I mention that his was from the Brainzooming R&D lab? We haven’t used this matrix about major strategic issues in any formal ways yet. The first use will likely take place with an organization dealing with poor communication and a negative environment. We might use it before or during a strategic planning workshop to better understand where major issues are landing. If you do anything with this matrix ahead of that, we’d love to know what you think.

One Final Note: While this matrix is discussed in the context of an organization, it relates to other situations, particularly couples and families, at least based on being able to readily identify interpersonal behaviors within the matrix. So, maybe try it out at home first? But, probably not as a big poster you put up on the wall! – Mike Brown

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I participated in the City Partnership Workshop yesterday at the 2018 Gigabit City Summit. Talking with one city’s representatives about strategies to sell-in a broadband recommendation with voters, they asked whether it is okay to engage its citizens after city leadership develops a recommendation.

My answer?

Engage your audience in collaborative strategic planning earlier than later. If you haven’t engaged them earlier, then do it right now, even if it’s later than what’s ideal.

Aaron Deacon of KC Digital Drive at #GCS18

Here’s the difference between the two options.

If you engage your audience early in the collaborative strategic planning process, you can make a legitimate claim to creating a collaborative vision. You can involve audience members in shaping the vision. You gain insights your leadership group does not possess. You can understand language your audience uses and incorporate it into messaging. Most importantly, you can shape strategies based on integrating audience input during the earliest stages. This opens the door for making strategy creation an experience that many people actively participate in doing versus just learning about after-the-fact.

If you broadly engage your primary audiences AFTER you’ve developed the strategic plan, the nature of the collaboration is very different. It involves more constraints. At that point, you don’t want to create a collaboration environment that needlessly derails solid work leading to the plan recommendation. That means the range of collaboration opportunities narrows. You don’t want to ask extremely open questions that might lead to input that goes beyond the strategy. Instead, you start asking questions about HOW to implement the direction, what might have been MISSED, and what things are CRITICAL FOR SUCCESS. There are other questions you can ask, but once the strategy recommendation is complete, you don’t want to waste time opening doors to non-productive strategy options.

That’s why it’s better to start engaging your audience EARLIER than LATER in collaborative strategic planning, even though later is STILL better than never. – Mike Brown

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Idea Magnets is about becoming a more dynamic leader who inspires extreme creativity and innovative success. You’ll learn to envision new creative paths that deliver powerful impact.

The Idea Magnets secret is naturally incorporating these seven strategies into your work and personal life:

  1. Generating Inspiration
  2. Embodying Servant Leadership
  3. Attracting Opposites
  4. Making Unexpected Connections
  5. Encouraging People and Ideas
  6. Implementing for Impact
  7. Recharging Creative Energy

These strategies will strengthen your leadership, attract new ideas and people, and lead to greater fulfillment for you and everyone around you!

Idea Magnets – 7 Strategies for Cultivating & Attracting Creative Business Leaders will be available July 23, 2018.



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