Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3

We’ve written about the importance of signaling collaboration strategy preferences when you and team members are working remotely. Even with video conferencing, you lose many of the verbal and physical cues available when you are sitting across a table planning who is going to do what and when on a project.

Talking with someone who is struggling with identifying the best ways to signal the appropriate collaboration strategy approash, we hit on a variation on the Sergio Zyman decision levels. We talk about Zyman’s decision delegation approach frequently to help leaders and teams figure work better.

Rather than addressing who will provide input and who will make decisions (as the Zyman model does), this collaboration strategy revolves around who will start developing ideas and how the collaboration will unfold within the team.

A 5-Level Collaboration Strategy Approach

Via Shutterstock

Here are five possibilities:

  • L – The Leader will figure it out
  • LT – The Leader will start developing ideas, then will collaborate with the entire Team to figure it out
  • C – The leader and team will Collaborate from scratch to figure it out
  • TL – The Team (or a team member) will start developing ideas and then bring them to the Leader to collaborate and ultimately figure it out
  • T – The Team (or team member) will figure it out and bring the finished product back to the team leader

This collaboration strategy idea is still in the Brainzooming R&D lab. The situations and acronyms for this collaboration strategy approach may change.

Do you have thoughts, reactions, or alternatives? Please share them on our Facebook page. If we have big insights from trying it ourselves, we’ll pass those along, too. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Before an impending purge of The Wall Street Journal back issues in my office, I reviewed an article from a late December 2017 issue: The New Age of Bespoke Travel. The article, by Nina Sovich, details how certain travel agents have reinvented themselves to compete when online trip planning now dominates over help from actual travel agents.

Photo by Dmitry Sovyak on Unsplash

The article inspired a laundry list of strategic thinking exercise prompts to re-imagine a threatened business model when your service offering is under assault from online offerings, bots, or some other form of complete automation.

A New Strategic Thinking Exercise

Here is how we see this new strategic thinking exercise coming together.

First, detail all the elements of your current service offering. Afterward, re-imagine what you could offer based on these generalized strategic moves travel agents are implementing successfully:

Customer Focus

Extraordinary Customer Service

  • Provide mega-personalized customer service
  • Offer 24/7 availability and assured communication WHENEVER the customer wants it
  • Remove EVERY worry customers in your market harbor
  • Remove ALL complexity before, during, and after your service
  • Establish unquestioned trust in your performance
  • Provide intense troubleshooting for ANY problems that arise – whether related to your actions or not

Amazing Expertise and Experiences

  • Develop and offer COMPLETE knowledge of your category
  • Offer highly-detailed upfront planning, customized for each client
  • Share more potential ideas / options than anyone would imagine
  • Create exclusive access to incredible experiences
  • Address customer needs outside the typical service boundaries your competitors adhere to
  • Design unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities
  • Integrate high-value, unique partnerships into the service offering

New Pricing Structures

  • Create a subscription-based price with no cost per interaction / service request
  • Establish a high-priced initiation fee and sizable annual spending minimums
  • Create an annual fee with a minimum spending volume beyond the fee

This strategic thinking exercise is straight from the Brainzooming R&D Labs. We don’t have any real-life stories to offer you yet on how it works in practice.

We’re excited about the possibilities of this strategic thinking exercise, though, and will probably try it out first on some Brainzooming service lines. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Since The Brainzooming Group launched, we have developed many strategic thinking exercises and models applying our methodology to diverse clients and business situations.

The result? We are further along and can even more easily customize these strategic thinking exercises to your needs if you face comparable situations. That is a major benefit if you want an outside, strategic perspective and need to start right now!

16 Strategic Thinking Exercises Ready to Go Right Now!

Review this list and identify the business opportunities or challenges that are incorporated in your strategic plans – or not. If any of these are on your agenda for this year, contact us. We can customize the strategic thinking exercises specifically for your organization and start moving even faster than normal!

We are trying to develop new strategies and strengthen our organization’s strategic perspective.

We know we need to use content marketing, but we’re struggling to connect the content to our brand and audience while generating real business returns.

Our focus is on innovation, and we need to bring it to life and create results before we lose interest and move on to the next big strategy.

Any of these opportunities and challenges familiar to you?

Are you under pressure to make one or more of these happen right now?

You owe it to yourself: contact us so we can talk through what you need to accomplish and see if it makes sense to work together.

We can get moving with the strategic thinking exercises and workshop implementation that will deliver results for you faster than you have ever imagined! – Mike Brown

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Vickie Howell is a broadcast personality, producer, author, designer, and instructor in the DIY world. Her online series, The Knit Show with Vickie Howell (YouTube) is the first studio produced, community funded, internationally accessible knitting and crochet streaming series. With the help of over 1200 individual and company backers, Vickie successfully raised $83k in 30 days on Kickstarter to fund the project. As of December 2017, The Knit Show has had over a quarter of a million views in at least 19 countries.

Photo: Harper Point Photography

For the sake of transparency, I note that Vickie also played bass in the imaginary band that she and I co-founded (I was the singer; the band was called Why Barbie’s Bad) as college theater students in the mid-90s, talking our way into (and out of) any number of ridiculous situations with our over-plucked brows, dark burgundy lipstick, and matching GIRLS KICK ASS t-shirts. Later, we worked for the same film and television production company while living in the same apartment building in West Los Angeles, and briefly had a side business selling light switches lovingly decoupaged by our own hands.

Those were, as Lou Reed sang, different times.

But some things remain constant. Vickie’s drive to strategize, revise, and improvise in the name of extreme creativity and productivity is as fierce and inspiring as ever, making her a natural choice for an interview on the Brainzooming blog.

Now Streaming: Extreme Creativity and Vickie Howell

Emma Alvarez Gibson (EAG): When your show was first available on YouTube, I told Mike about it, and I didn’t think he would watch it. Because he doesn’t watch anything, really. I’m always sending him videos and stuff and he’s like, Oh…yeah…I kind of clicked on it…

Vickie Howell (VH): I mean, but it’s knitting, soooo…

EAG: Exactly!

VH: Seems like it’s a given. Of course, he’s going to watch it. No? That’s not where you were going with this?

EAG: Well, two days later, he says, By the way, I watched most of the episode! I’m like, WHAT?! He says, It was really good! I was so impressed!

VH: Why? Why did he do that?

EAG: I think it’s the fact that when you saw that the market wasn’t doing what it had been doing, you took things into your own hands and found a way to do it anyway. Without getting too precious about it, those qualities in you really kind of embody what Brainzooming is about.

So, maybe tell me about how you got to where you are now and what your thoughts are about moving forward. There was a little period when there was a ton of DIY and craft shows on and that’s where you found your niche.

VH: Do you want a little background on why that went away?

EAG: Yeah.

VH: Ad dollars. There’s no money in crafts. And basically, Home Depot and Lowes are better ad buy-ins for [networks like DIY, the home of Vickie’s first show, Knitty Gritty]. We don’t have that kind of money in crafting, so it was a much more viable model to just move over to home improvement and home decorating.

DIY programming in social media has been easy. Anybody can post videos. People were getting their projects everywhere, all over the interwebs, and then they were getting the education on how to make their projects through sites like Craftsy and CreativeLive, and now Brit + Co., and Creativebug — there’s tons of them. So, the programming industry has had to completely hustle like the rest of us. Time is ticking. Cable stations are going to turn into streaming stations. So, everybody’s going big. They’re not going to go for the “there’s no ad dollars in it” show.

I was watching this all develop over the course of about eight years. I saw it happening again and again as I was working, as I was pitching, as I was trying different things. And I was still getting these messages almost daily saying that Knitty Gritty was still impactful, still had a space in people’s lives. I wanted to recreate that essence, but for now, meaning the digital aspect, which obviously wasn’t a thing back then, and the social media aspect, which was really the most exciting part for me. I started doing Facebook Live videos the first day they were available for verified users. And I noticed how many people were watching from different countries, like Turkey, Canada, Australia, Brazil–I didn’t expect that kind of community to be out there.

And for me, now, that’s the goal today. Your community is no longer in your own neighborhood, or your own state, or even your own country. As far as you can reach, and anybody can reach that far, from the comfort of their own homes — that reach is the limitation of your community, and community is the very base of marketing.

So, there were those two components, plus a third one. However you’re creative, whether it’s picking up a Fender Strat, or a paintbrush, or knitting needles, that is how you channel your creativity. And creativity is openness, and when you’re open, that allows you to see the world on a broader scope than what you would otherwise. I wanted to encapsulate that essence. It’s about people’s communities, it’s about connection of people, it’s about choosing it for stress reduction or for coping, or because you’re putting something beautiful out in the world, or for socialization, or whatever. So that was really important to me, and the only way that I could do that and make it look cool, without it being watered down heavily, was just to do it myself.

EAG: And from there, the wheels started turning and you started thinking, What would I need to start getting together so that I could produce this myself?

VH: Yeah. So, when I worked on a PBS show, I had co-executive produced it, and also produced it with my friend Karin Strom. We picked the guests, we picked the content, we figured it out. And so that experience gave me that final bit of confidence. And because I’d been in the entertainment industry, as you know, since I was 18 or 19, on and off, I knew a lot of it. But the actual nuts and bolts–that was sort of the final piece, just to see if I was a truly competent producer, and I found out that I was. And I loved it, and I still love it. It’s still one of my favorite things to do. That had been percolating for a couple of years. I worked for about a year’s time with Scripps [Scripps Networks Interactive], which owns the DIY Network, to license the Knitty Gritty name. It got pretty close, but we just couldn’t make it work, which was in hindsight a blessing, because I own The Knit Show, together with ProductionFor, outright. So, we don’t have to get approval for anything. It would have been nice to have that name recognition, but it’s so exciting, when I put on my marketing hat, that I don’t have the limitations that I would if I owed anything to anyone.

EAG: Absolutely.

Photo: Keith Trigaci

VH: I can work with people for sponsorships or partnerships in really interesting and innovative ways. Many companies don’t have the actual capital to invest, but they have the email newslists, or they have some kind of asset that is a viable barter, and so they get to put their name on what they think is a cool and innovative project, and we get whatever asset they have, whether it’s an e-newsblast to 250,000 people, which are eyes that we need, or it’s furniture for the set, or even wardrobe for me to wear to an appearance. And then what happens is that the backer page grows larger and larger and larger, so that when future investors look at it, they can see that a village built this. And there’s a village behind it.

So, I started building that, and then I went to my ex-husband Clint, because he owns a production company, ProductionFor. I went to him with the big piece that I didn’t know anything about, which was how to create a budget for a show. We went back and forth and I told him what amount I felt comfortable raising. As a side note, I’ve never felt comfortable asking for money. I sucked at selling Girl Scout Cookies. It’s just never been my wheelhouse. But because I could sort of see this as a service–people wanted this–I kind of worked it out. We found a number that we could at least try and raise together. We created a partnership with this company that normally produces interstitials, commercials, and the like, but really wanted to get into episodics. And I really needed a production company behind me for the technical side of it. So, we just sort of jumped in together. It was a huge learning curve, and there are a lot of lessons still being learned. But it was a pretty exciting adventure.

EAG: Once you got all the funding you needed, how quickly was the first season completed?

VH: I had my pitch meeting with ProductionFor in February. The Kickstarter began the third week in March and ended in April. I don’t know if you know this, but with Kickstarter, you get 30 days to raise all of it or you get none of it. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And then I had my content producer Karin on a plane within maybe two weeks, and we started planning the grid. So, we went right into it. The actual studio production was the first week of August, it was five days and we shot ten episodes.

EAG: Where are you now in the process? What do you have happening next? If I know you there’s a long, long, long-term strategy.

VH: There is. The great thing about having streaming content is that there’s no shelf life for it. So now, I’ll go back and on a granular level, dissect it and see what I can do as far as marketing goes for external pieces. I’ve just received all the transcripts needed to get every episode captioned. Since we have 19 countries’ worth of ownership, I’d like to start experimenting with subtitles. I’m going to start with German and then probably Spanish. What I’d also like to do is investigate: can we sell this to an airline? Are there ways that we can sell pieces of it without it having to be pulled down from YouTube? And I don’t know the answer to that. So that’s something that I really want to investigate right now. And then I’ll break down each individual piece for additional cross-promotional opportunities.

We chose to put the whole season up at once to compete with other binge-worthy series in the digital market. That choice, though, means working harder to keep word circulating so new viewers find us. If I can offer screenshots and direct video links to snippets of the show that give a glimpse of even the smallest of products or locations, then I’ll ask the respective companies to feature us on social. This project is made for and by the community–so I’ll continue to ask that community to pitch in to make it a success.

Photo: Keith Trigaci

EAG: Blue-sky, no-holds-barred, what do you see happening?

VH: Here’s my pie in the sky: I didn’t produce this just to be a one-off. I want to continue producing the show and providing great content for the people in my community. That could be either on my own, through private investors, and just create my own thing, or it could be ultimately selling it to an Amazon or a Netflix or whatever–I think all networks are going to have streaming options soon. I have a feeling that NBC Universal will be one of the first, because they bought Craftsy, and they have Amy Poehler’s Handmade show. It could be any one of those, or it could be something I haven’t even thought of, because everything’s changing. Ultimately, I would like to produce DIY programming in all different craft realms so that I can help other designers and hosts rise. I would executive produce them. Quilting, jewelry, sewing, maybe baking, that type of thing. So that’s sort of the big picture.

EAG: A lot of people at any given point along this journey that you’ve just described would have gone, Well, I guess that’s it. What is it that keeps you pushing?

VH: I mean, but, when do you say that’s it? Like when you make your goal on Kickstarter? Or when you actually get the show produced? Or…?

EAG: I guess I’m talking more about the challenges, you know, the, Well, I have this great show, I was on this other show, but that didn’t

VH: Oh! Because I’m totally unhireable. That’s easy. Sorry, I misunderstood the question. No, I mean, what the hell else am I going to do? I’ve always, always sparkle-fingered my way through life, you know? I’ve always talked my way in and figured it out. And I guess the fear is just having to get a regular job, maybe. And also, I’ve had some really amazing experiences of people coming up to me and sharing really powerful stories involving one of my projects. And there’s something about that that helps propel you forward when you feel like pulling the covers over your head. Knowing that even if it’s just one person, or two people, or a handful of people, that you’re making a difference in someone’s life. And, you know, I’m not curing cancer. But if I can help a mom who’s sitting in a hospital room while her baby has leukemia–this woman just told me this story last week, so it’s fresh in my mind–and my projects, columns I’ve written, whatever, helped her get through something because it gave her purpose? That’s good enough for me, man. That’s good enough for me.

EAG: Thanks, Vickie! We can’t wait to see what you do next.  – Emma Alvarez Gibson


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Who should you invite to participate in an innovation strategy workshop?

We’ve written about three important strategic perspectives (general management, functional expertise, and people with creative energy) and three types of voices (traditional, challenger, and emerging) to include in any type of strategy workshop.

Via Shutterstock

Working with a client to identify potential participants for an innovation strategy workshop, we identified five other participant profiles to expand the workshop diversity:

1. Unafraid People – Individuals that don’t care about what other people think, say, or do relative to their ideas.

2. The Voices of the Organization – People who will be able to share what the organization thinks – whether easy or challenging to hear. These are the individuals that everyone in the organization talks to about their aspirations and concerns.

3. Organizational Reactors – These are the people who, whenever an announcement is made or big news happens, everyone watches to see their expressions and the intensity of whatever emotions they display.

4. Entitled Owners – Individuals within the organization that only support implementation of their own idea and programs. You invite these individuals (in a reasonable numbers) so they feel as if the innovative ideas emerging are their own.

Adding individuals in each of these four groups, we grew the list of potential participants. We still hadn’t accounted for every department or tenure group that needed representation in the innovation strategy workshop. But they were out of people who would provide an innovative perspective.So, we added another potential group of participants:

5. People who won’t do any harm. These are individuals who might not contribute much to new thinking but won’t detract from the innovative thinking of others.

Identifying these five groups pushed us to the diversity we needed to move forward with the innovation strategy workshop.

Which leads to a question YOU will need to answer: Who is in your YOUR innovation strategy workshop?  – Mike Brown

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A potential client reached out to us. He was a client team member on a customer experience strategy engagement several years ago. He has moved to a new role leading marketing for an organization shifting from the B2C to B2B market. They need a compelling brand position, messaging, and a content marketing strategy that grows their volume of interested prospects and leads to strong growth to satisfy the global company that just acquired the brand.

We created a proposal for rapidly updating and developing its B2B brand strategy while leaving everything in place the founder and CEO loves about the brand and doesn’t want to tinker with right now. The focus was on getting the best, actionable brand strategy foundation elements in place ASAP so they can implement.

We exchanged emails right before the holiday that they are leaning toward going with a different outside partner that does both brand strategy and execution. We responded with a message on why a client-side Marketing VP should be very cautious of an outside partner or agency that rushes to promise both branding strategy AND execution.

1 Big Reason Why You Don’t Want Brand Strategy and Execution from the Same Partner

Are you familiar with the pitfalls of picking one partner to both develop brand strategy and execute the strategy? Here, from experience we’ve had on the client side, are the pitfalls we spelled out for this client side marketer:

Dear Potential Client,

Thanks for your email. I appreciate your candor, and want to be just as candid in my response. 

First and foremost, it was clear from our discussions that you need something that is on target strategically and not just interesting creatively.

The pitfall of picking someone who’s going to do strategy and tactics and slam it together right away is that they recommend a strategy that best fits what they do, and not what’s right for the client. I saw that time and time again as a corporate marketing VP. That’s why The Brainzooming Group comes at it in a very aggressive way to tailor the strategy for your organization and needs, independent of looking for opportunities to sell-in additional services.

As it seems everyone in your senior management team recognizes, your brand and messaging is tailored currently to a narrower audience. The messaging and audience strategy must change and be immediately on target to make rapid headway in the broad B2B market you are beginning to target. 

If there’s an organization that can come to the table and do strategy and tactics with previous experience in your industry, and do it all for the same price, that’s great. They’d be the smart choice over us.

It’s worth making sure, however, that they understand–both strategically and from a content standpoint–what you need to be successful, and not simply what fits their business model. If they’re pitching you on their ability to help you on the B2B side, look at their website and see that they’re using those same ideas themselves to target B2B decision makers. If not, as a client, I’d be suspect of how they make it work for others in a B2B market, but not for themselves.

Short story, on the client side, I found that getting the right strategy consistently led to getting the creative right. Our approach and experience will deliver solid strategy. Plus, we integrate well and collaborate openly with organizations that do focus on implementation.

If you’re open to it, we’re eager to make sure you get the on-target strategy you need, collaborate with your other partner, and make the process fast and economical for you. We’ll make sure they’re getting everything these need to quickly implement the strategy that’s going to yield business results for you.

Again, I appreciate your candor and your time. We’d love to work with you. Feel free to reach out for any clarification or to get us moving on next steps.



Are you facing the same question about brand strategy and execution?

We’ll see what the potential client does. My suspicion is they’ll go with the other partner, and get a seamless plan that the outside partner positions as solid brand strategy. The problem is the brand strategy will look like a page from the partner’s capabilities page. So, the seamless strategy will work well for the outside provider – at least until it is implemented – but fall short for the end client.

Are you facing the same type of decision about developing your brand strategy?

Contact us, and let’s develop the best strategy for YOU. Then get the right partners to implement it. Because the promise to do everything will get you almost nothing that works. – Mike Brown

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Looking ahead to transitioning from planning to doing and wanting to maximize success?

Try these 5 implementation strategy steps for launching a big initiative properly so the initial implementation leads to outstanding results later.

1. Make Sure You Have the Right Team

The big first implementation strategy step is assembling the right team with the skills, experience, and perspectives to make a big initiative happen. This begins with envisioning the initiative’s scope and reach. For those who’ve been blessed with skills as visual thinkers, this may be an easy step. These types of people can simply “watch” an initiative play out in their minds, almost as if it were a movie. They see the scenes and think about what happens and all the people that need to be in place.

For those less visually-inclined, it helps to get a couple of people you know will be on the team, the starting project timeline, and a white board. List the key steps for implementing the initiative. Then, for each step, list who is best prepared to implement it, whose work they will depend on before theirs so they can implement, and who will work with what they produce in the initiative. By exploring those three areas for each step, you’ll have a much more robust list of potential project team participants. With this expanded list, you can start to make sure you have all the types of people and necessary skills accounted for among your project team.

2. Share the Expected Impact and Experience from a Successful Initiative

Even if there is a stated objective or SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound) goal created for the initiative upfront, it’s helpful to envision in a broader way what the initiative is supposed to deliver. You can frame the initiative’s expected impact in several concrete ways:

  • What will the team do to implement the initiative?
  • How will the initiative’s audiences react as it is implemented? How will they benefit from it?
  • What will be the business results from the initiative’s success?

Articulating this envisioned impact provides a more complete perspective of the experience and look of success at every step of the initiative’s implementation. This prepares a team to help you, as a leader, monitor and adjust to keep the initiative on track for its timely completion.

3. Provide a Broad Starting View to Your Team Members

Typically, an initiative’s leader has greater exposure to the plan based on the length of time you’ve been involved, your experience, and/or where you sit in the organization. If this is the case, it behooves you to share as much of what you know as possible with newly-involved initiative team members. To launch the team most successfully, the leader should bring together all the relevant information – including highlighting what isn’t known – to make team members as uniformly smart as possible on the initiative.

Offering this overview even before the team meets the first time provides an immediate confidence boost. It sends a clear message that the work is important (since you’ve taken time to prepare), strategic (through providing valuable context on how the initiative supports business objectives), and action-oriented (because you anticipated the initiative’s timeline and impact).

4. Set Boundaries for Change

While it might strike some people as odd to discuss setting ‘boundaries for change,’ this is an important element in a big initiative’s success. This implies letting your team know where they have more and less latitude for introducing new, creative, and untried solutions that can turn the initiative into reality.

Team members can determine where to best invest their time, ideas, and diligence most effectively when they know whether an initiative is viewed as needing to deliver incremental vs. transformative change. If the organization isn’t looking for major changes from an initiative, understanding that upfront helps team members develop more realistic strategies and timelines.

When, however, an organization expects significant transformation resulting from an initiative, team members can set targets appropriately. They can better identify how much personal and organizational creativity to bring to the implementation steps.

5. Embrace Moving Back and Forth between Strategy and Details

Think about implementing a major initiative implementation as an event. Using an event framework is helpful because successful event planners must move continually back and forth between a strategic perspective and tactical implementation. This implies, in practice, both identifying implementation steps that support overall strategy and being comfortable (while implementing) testing each step against how it supports the overall initiative strategy.

This ongoing back and forth movement between strategy and detail is integral to implementing a big initiative. It’s neither all about the thinking, nor all about the doing. Additionally, there aren’t necessarily exclusive times for separate thinking and doing. A great initiative leader has to be adept at moving back and forth between the two, while helping team members do the same.”

5 Implementation Strategy Steps and Future Success

We are firm believers that delivering a successful initiative is highly dependent on it starting properly rather than having to make major adjustments later when a poorly-planned launch creates performance gaps. Following these five implementation strategy steps sets the stage to launch a major initiative with the right team members having clear expectations on what they are expected to deliver and the change impact the organization needs.

If you’d like a valuable resource to help you ask the right questions as you launch new initiatives, download our FREE eBook, 10 Questions for Successfully Launching New Programs (or 10? as we call it). These questions will help your team perform better and lead to stronger results! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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