Executing strategy is hard. Although you might think you have all the right pieces in place, sometimes you can’t help but feel that something is just not working correctly. In many cases, problems arise due to one of two things: ineffectual meetings that hinder the decision-making process, and/or projects that miss the mark when it comes to strategy alignment.
To help determine if one or both of these areas is at the root of your problem, take a look at the sections for each below. First, we explore the decision-making process as it occurs in different organizations, and how meetings play a role in each. Then, we offer some pointers for more strategic project management. We’ll finish off with 15 pointers to help you improve your strategy review meetings.
What does your strategic management process look like?
Let me quickly describe a dysfunctional organization:
It is one whose leadership team meets perhaps weekly for an hour, monthly for two to four hours, or even quarterly for four to eight hours. They talk about all the things that are important to their organization. They discuss the challenges and successes. They fret over complex and difficult issues, then they break for the day and plan to meet again during the next regularly planned session.
Where is the dysfunction, you ask? The problem lies not in the discussion. The team does discuss important things—they just don’t seem to accomplish anything. They are doing a variation of kicking the can down the road. The difficult issues are either not clearly defined, or there’s no real discussion about the options available. Sometimes decisions are made, but not communicated. Worse, they are made and then ignored. When the bad behavior continues, the issue is put on the management agenda again and discussed again…and again.
Organizations, especially leadership teams, need a strategic management process for decision making. Two years ago, I worked with a CEO who told his leadership team: “When we have a decision that needs to be made, I want all of you to tell me what you think. I want you to advocate for one side of the decision. Tell me, passionately, why you believe the decision should be made one way, and explain why the other way is wrong. After we have the discussion, I will make the decision. It is my decision to make, and I expect that you will fall in line behind me and execute on this decision, even if you were arguing for the other side of it. I want and respect your input at the front of the process, but there is only one vote for the decision…mine.” This tactic might not work for your organization, but it worked extremely well for theirs.
Other organizations make decisions by consensus. This, I find, is rather common in nonprofits. They discuss the issue and set a time to make a decision. Then they vote until a majority (or supermajority) of the people agree with the decision. Sometimes it takes several meetings, but in the end, they have shared ownership of the decision and can explain it and execute on it. While a typical complaint is that the process is slow, it also works for many organizations.
Take some of the above ideas and reflect upon how your organization manages, and then discuss your thoughts with others. You might be surprised to realize that some people think they have voting power but they don’t, and that others who do have voting power may not even realize it.
Another key area where you may have challenges is in ensuring that your major projects are strategic. Are you putting your resources where your strategy is? Here are three simple questions that will help you answer this riddle:
1. Does your program align with the strategy? Take a look at your strategy map or a logic model. Ask yourself where the program has the most impact on the strategy. You would not expect the impact to be broad but rather in a few key areas where it propels the strategy forward. If you cannot find any areas of impact, you must discontinue the program.
2. Is your program having an impact? How you approach this question depends upon the nature of your organization. But you should take the time to figure out how the program is striving to help and define its purpose. You may have to create surveys or take a hard look at the metrics you are using to evaluate it, and so on. Try to gain some insight as to how the program is helping you perform against your key strategic measures.
3. Is the program managed well? No amount of good intent makes our efforts matter. We have to plan, measure, and manage to achieve results. Go to your staff—they will tell you if you are managing your program well. Do they know its purpose? Do they review performance results? Do they have a venue to identify corrective actions?
So now you have evaluated your programs for strategic alignment, and evaluated your decision-making process to ensure you aren’t wasting your time in management meetings. What next? We have created a 15-step checklist to help you think about issues related to management reporting that could be slowing you down when it comes to executing strategy. Checking off the boxes in all of these areas will improve your chances of successful execution.
Your 15-Step Management Reporting Checklist
Whether you compile and present your reports in Excel, PowerPoint, Google Sheets, or a reporting software system, it’s important to follow a few rules. Make sure to check off these three things before presenting your reports to management.
1. Make sure you’re using the same format as others.
Do you have four or five people coming together to build a quarterly report? Make sure you’re all in the same file type.
2. Check to see that everyone is using the right template.
Before the group puts together its slides or reports, it’s important that everyone has the right template. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck formatting blank slides for hours.
3. Check your vertical vs. horizontal table layouts.
If one person puts “months” on the left and “KPIs” on the right but you do the reverse, you’ll waste a lot of time transposing.
Now we’ll get into the meat of the report. Check off these four items before building your presentation.
4. Review previous reports for conflicting data.
To properly analyze progress, make sure your data lines up with the last reporting cycle. If your conversion rate was 2.5% in FY14 and on the most recent report it’s 1.5%, you may have to answer some questions.
5. Make sure KPIs are consistent.
Not only does the data need to be consistent with previous reports, so do your measurements. If you were looking at “sales by region” last report and “sales by city” this report, it’ll be impossible to compare.
6. Make sure time periods are consistent.
Do not switch from “revenue per week” to “revenue per month” unless you’ve made an organizational decision to change. Stay consistent with your time periods so you can track progress.
7. Create RAG rules.
Red, amber, and green (RAG) rules help your team assess high, medium, and low performance numbers. Make sure everyone is on the same page with how these are defined before coloring each KPI.
The Review Process
Now that you have the format correct and the report built, it’s time to review and edit. Check off these three boxes.
8. Double-check every page for formatting, typographical, and number errors.
Save yourself from embarrassment during the management reporting process by diligently checking each page for these three things.
9. Check for surprises and discuss with critical people before presenting.
Has one KPI significantly dropped off since the last reporting cycle? Check with stakeholders to find an explanation and a solution. You don’t want to be blindsided in the meeting.
10. Check for missing sections.
When building a report, you’ll inevitably have to pause and return to a section. Make sure to check for empty tables, missing numbers, and missing pages before presenting. You want to tell the full story.
The Communication Plan
The final step is communicating your report. The file itself is important, but how you present it is more critical. Follow these five steps.
11. Send out the report before presenting it.
Give your management team the opportunity to prepare for the meeting by sending out the report beforehand.
12. Present your report in a meeting.
The numbers are important, but the context behind those numbers tells the full story. Give yourself a chance to add context by presenting your report in a meeting format. Don’t just send it off and let it float away.
13. Invite people to the meeting.
This is a simple one, but it sometimes slips through the cracks. Invite people to the meeting well in advance, set a recurring meeting if needed, and make sure everyone has accepted before showing up to the conference room.
14. Set up a meeting room.
Here’s another simple but important reminder: Make sure your calendar invite includes a reserved conference room or an online meeting room.
15. Designate an unbiased moderator.
You may want to consider inviting an unbiased team member to run the meeting. That way, you can spread time evenly across topics. If you run the meeting, it may be all positives; if the board runs the meetings it could end up being all negatives. A moderator could help balance both.
If you’ve checked off all 15 steps, you’re cleared for reporting takeoff! I promise your reporting presentations will go more smoothly from here on out with this management reporting checklist by your side.
Think we’re missing any steps? Tweet @ClearPointStrat with your recommendations and we’d be glad to include them.