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Business Strategy

8 Tactics to Successfully Develop and Operationalize Strategic Initiatives

Tara Brown
May 31, 2023

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have the trust of leadership and the support I needed to lead multiple organization-wide initiatives. I’m often asked to share my process for tackling this type of challenge. I’ve employed a consistent, topic-agnostic approach to successfully lead a wide variety of strategic initiatives, including:

  • Implementing a new performance management process
  • Crafting a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy
  • Establishing a high-potential leadership development program
  • Advancing corporate ethics practices

Today my charge is to lead Jack Henry’s corporate sustainability program, which includes our low-carbon transition and philanthropy strategy. (If you’re interested in learning more, check out Jack Henry’s 2023 Sustainability Report.)

My tactics to successfully develop and operationalize strategic initiatives include the following:

  1. Do the Research: Conventional wisdom says secure “quick wins.” In my experience, slowing down to deeply understand the subject matter allows for maximum acceleration when the time is right. It also increases the ability to sustain momentum. Consume tons of information from diverse sources to fully understand the big picture. Then, distill the common themes, determine the most credible sources, and explore the topic in the context of the organization, leveraging the experience of subject matter experts.
  2. Define Success: This is the most crucial step of the whole process and is rarely properly prioritized. Success must be based on outcomes.  Clearly defined outcomes are concrete and measurable. Start with defining longer-term “horizon” outcomes and then identify shorter-term milestones on the path to achieving those horizon outcomes.
  3. Craft a Roadmap: Start with horizon outcomes and build an action plan backward with milestones and action items documented with increasing granularity in the short term. Document action items by month in year one, then by quarter for year two and three, and then by year throughout your horizon timeline. Proactively manage the roadmap with a rolling commitment to building out the details. Expect uncertainty and the need to adjust. Pause periodically and take stock of what’s working and where you need to pivot.
  4. Incorporate Change Management Early: Change management typically starts after strategic initiatives are well underway, but it is much more effective when considered from the very beginning. Build the change management strategy into the roadmap from start to finish. Identify some “true believers” to help evangelize the change.
  5. Engage the Business: Invite colleagues to serve as thought partners and/or on working groups throughout the planning and operationalizing of your initiative. Engage colleagues with diverse perspectives including roles, departments, tenure, demographics, lived experiences, and ways of thinking to support an inclusive and well-thought-out initiative. Set the expectation with those involved to ask the hard questions early on, so that the effort will be successful down the road.
  6. Be Proactive: Anticipate questions and be ready to address them proactively. Never show up to a group meeting without having vetted ideas with a couple of folks in the room. Find allies who will champion the work with their peers and the broader organization. Partner with the naysayers privately to address potential concerns before the big meeting.
  7. Simplify Messaging and Inspire Action: Identify the “big why” and the smaller “whys” that may resonate with specific audiences. (Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle" concept is pure genius). Invest the time needed to make complex ideas simple to understand. Clarify how the work you’re leading fits into the bigger picture and make connections across disparate organizational initiatives. Your audience needs to both understand the initiative and the role they play in its success.
  8. See It Through: Large-scale change management efforts typically take years, and most of us tend to focus on getting through the launch. The long-term stickiness of the initiative correlates with fully implementing the roadmap well beyond launch. Orient new hires and thoughtfully reinforce with current staff at regular intervals.

One of my favorite quotes is by accomplished business professional, Jim Collins: “Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done.” May each of us be so lucky.

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