I’m working with a client on a massive change management initiative where their internal and external relationships will be critical to the success of making the change last. As you can imagine, any such initiative has a lot of moving parts; this company has identified over a dozen possible courses of action, with enough interdependencies to make your head spin. What this client lacks is a roadmap to delineate the important from the urgent. Of all the competing components, which should receive priority? How does any company decide how to balance allocation of the appropriate people-power and financial resources across its various initiatives?
That is where a prioritization scorecard comes in: a tool that helps leaders fundamentally think through the complex issues that carry strategy into execution.
Think customer outcomes, not company inputs
The language we typically use in planning—tasks and functions and tracks and work streams—fundamentally describe inputs; what we do and how we do it. The first step toward effective prioritization to deepen any strategic relationship is to switch to a focus on outcomes. Absolutely, the most important priority is impact on the customer’s lives. These are the people we’re doing it for, whatever it is we’re doing. In the majority of situations, low-impact activity should take a back seat to that which has the most positive direct impact on improving the clients or customers’ condition.
With the client relationship squarely at the center, it becomes clear that not all criteria for prioritization are created equal. To apply the criteria I’m about to describe, start by ranking them in order of impact on the client. (Simply reorder the bullets until you are satisfied that the one with the most potential to transform your clients’ lives, to help them with their “jobs,” to ease their pains and accelerate their gains, is Number One. Then rank the rest in descending order.) Now you are ready to assess the value of these criteria on a scale where 10 = high, 1 = low. At this moment, how capable is your organization of executing well?
The “ART” of prioritization: Assess impact of Action, Relationships and Timing
To help you understand these ten criteria and how they interact, I’ve grouped them by action, relationships, and timing. Of any possible course of action, consider:
- Is this in alignment with our strategy? If it is not, why are we thinking about doing it?
- What resources does it require? These will likely include tools, financial resources, and human resources in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviors required.
- Opportunity cost: If we do this, what is it that we cannot do? Assess cost against resources limits.
- Who do we need? Think about the pivotal contacts who can accelerate our ability to complete this initiative, either via their own expertise or by making a crucial introduction.
- Who do we have? Think about who is currently in the relationship bank. What is the overlap between the relationships we have and the ones we need?
- What do the people we have or need, need to know? Consider the learning curve of the group. Do they have the needed skills and knowledge? Do they understand the right behaviors? If not, what is it going to take to get them there?
- Do we have the right executive sponsor leading this initiative? Almost any change initiative takes a champion. How influential is the person who will lead? If you do not have the right person in place, how will you develop a leader?
- Does the leader have a sounding board? Every leader should have the right relationships, internal to the company, across divisions or business units, but also external to the company, to serve as a personal advisory group.
- What is the time to impact? Will results be observable in six weeks or six months? Most people don’t have the discipline for a marathon without first training on shorter distances.
- Is now the right time for us to do this? What conditions must be in place for it to be the right time?
If you were completing this scorecard for your organization, you would now have ranked the ten criteria in descending order by impact on customer, and then assigned a score based on your readiness to execute each. (Notice that half the criteria are relationship-based. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, coming from a relationship advocate!) From these numerical results, you could, in theory, judge which initiatives should receive the greatest priority and resource allocation. Strategic decisions guided by those scores would certainly have greater potential to succeed.
But don’t turn in your scorecard just yet. It’s time for one final question:
Is your organization culturally and emotionally prepared for change? How do you know? Whenever an organization undertakes a change initiative, a new norm comes about—a different position or attitude, a new way of doing things. Change is inherently uncomfortable. There will be overt and covert resistance. It’s time to assess what has to happen for your organization to weather the storms that change creates. If a storm is severe enough, you may lose some talent you would rather have retained. What can you do to prepare people and processes for resiliency during the period of transition? To earn broad buy-in to a change initiative, it is important to start with an action with a relatively short time to impact. You need definitive success stories to build on. Otherwise, you risk what I call “initiative fatigue”—a failure to achieve buy-in because there is simply too much going on, too many initiatives, too many pilots, and too many moving parts that the recipients of the intended value simply can’t keep up with!
There are nuances in every company, of course; this prioritization scorecard is not “one size fits all.” Rather, it is a meant to be a thought-provoking exercise for a board or senior leadership team. There may not be complete consensus, but the discussion will bring to light key issues. This prioritization scorecard should dictate not just what your organization chooses for immediate action, but also where incoming new requests or opportunities fit in. And as you wrap up one initiative, it provides a toolset for how to onramp the next one, without initiative fatigue.
Typically major change initiatives occur in complex organizations, where the people involved work across many departments and in many functions. They may come together for a project for a time, then disseminate and reform in new teams to work on the next action. What happens to the great ideas generated by each team? I’ve yet to meet in any of my client firms the “Chief Best Practices Officer,” but I submit, this may be a key position during times of transition. Change initiatives only gain traction when people can trust that results will be real and durable.
To overcome complexity and achieve lasting transformation from your change initiatives, make impact on customers your lodestone. Then weigh options using a prioritization scorecard.
- A prioritization scorecard is a tool to help leaders assess interdependent courses of action.
- Put customers at the center of your assessment: which course of action has the greatest potential for transformative impact?
- Use this exercise to bring to light key issues, choose courses of action, and master the transitions between one initiative and the next.
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® – the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics – Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact – Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.