1. Ensure the program leader has the right capabilities for the job. I know that this is obvious, but I have seen too many instances where the program leader is totally unsuited to the work demanded by leading a major strategy initiative. Irrespective of the technical skills required, the program leader should be a great communicator, highly organized and deal with setbacks and failure effectively.
  2. Always take a cross-functional approach. Few, if any, initiatives that will drive your strategy forward and deliver major business benefits can be delivered through a single function.
  3. Create urgency and pace from the get go. Pace is essential to the successful delivery of change projects. If you wait too long to get going the gravity of the existing organization will ensure the program never ‘lifts off’.
  4. Focus on results. Ensure that the program team has crystal clear objectives and are completely focused on results rather than the process.
  5. Where possible, start small and learn fast. Some programs demand major changes from the start, but most don’t. Get something out there that you can test, even if it is only in a small, focused area of the organization or market, and refine your thinking and approach based on the results you achieve and the feedback you receive.
  6. Communicate the initiative’s importance but avoid big stage-managed presentation announcements. Communicating your strategy is essential, but the big set-piece events and strategy ‘launches’ are unlikely to capture your people’s imagination. People will believe results over promises every day of the week, and it is the results that you achieve that will sway any doubters you might have.
  7. Integrate the initiative’s plans with relevant operating plans. I am always puzzled by the distinction that some managers seem to make between ‘strategic initiatives’ and ‘the day job’. Part of everyone’s day job is delivering the company’s agreed strategy. Yet this will only happen if line managers and their teams are rewarded on delivering the strategy.
  8. Embed accountability through performance management systems. Ensure that specific elements of the program’s action plans and the results they must deliver are set out in the performance objectives of your line teams.
  9. Have a direct line of communication with the program team. Even where you set up executive sponsors to lead the work on behalf of your top team, there are times when only the CEO can make the difference.
  10. Ensure the initiative has an end date. There are few things sadder in the corporate world than a program team’s office five years on from the program’s launch. Few strategic initiatives need to last longer than a couple of years, and many can be handed over to your line teams in less than a year. You should ensure that your program leader has a specific objective and milestone to complete the handover to the line and switch the lights off in the program office at that start of the program. That way you will encourage simplicity, focus and pace and have the best chance of delivering real results.

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.