Why do some strategic initiatives seem to move forward effortlessly, while others end up stuck somewhere along the way? Are some business goals just more complex and challenging to achieve than others? Or is there some methodology that can be applied regardless of the size of the project? If it sometimes feels like your team is spinning their wheels, you are not alone. The reality is that effective execution in a complex corporate environment is extremely difficult. It requires a very specific set of highly developed skills and expertise.
While every initiative may be unique, the key components to keeping them on track are universal. Here are three ways successful leaders drive critical initiatives across the finish line.
1. Put someone in charge of the whole shebang
In many companies, senior executives have way too much to do, yet they are still accountable for getting key initiatives across the finish line. And all their direct reports already have full plates, too – doing all the things they were originally hired to deliver. So what happens is:
- The work gets divided up, which leads to poor communication and slow progress
- Someone already very busy is assigned the work, so it falls behind
- Ownership isn’t assigned, so it never gets started
- A mix of all of the above
Sound familiar? This is not because anyone is doing anything wrong. It happens to really good teams all the time.
A common refrain heard from business leaders is “I just need another me.”
So, very often the critical first step toward getting movement is to identify someone who will own the project. Someone who can focus 100% on the key objectives with no distraction and see it to completion.
2. Don’t confuse experience with expertise
No initiative can be successful without the active participation of stakeholders. People who emphasize their own experience over the internal team’s specific expertise often alienate them – by failing to partner with them and listen to their point of view. So it’s critical to approach the leadership of any initiative with an open mind, and an active listening process.
The truth is that no matter how much experience you have, it is the folks in each functional area of the company who are the true subject matter experts in their area. So driving a project successfully across the finish line absolutely requires not just their cooperation, but active participation.
In order to unstick a stuck project, you need them to share what really goes on inside their functional area. To get back to you promptly on questions and follow through on their deliverables. To feel as invested in moving the project forward as you do. And that kind of cooperation is earned, not given.
The job of the initiative leader is not to know everything, but rather to know how to extract information from each functional team – and then turn that into a plan that works.
3. Create a neutral playing field
Key initiatives often get stuck when affected business units have different priorities. When conflicts arise, the tendency is to put off hard choices, leading to delay. Perhaps IT is focused on one objective, and marketing on another. Managing these conflicts requires someone who isn’t married to either marketing or IT. Instead, it requires a cross-functional leader skilled in resolving precisely these kinds of conflicts and finding a path forward, while creating a great experience where team members feel heard.
Think of it this way: your initiative’s leader must be like Switzerland, meaning a completely neutral party with expertise in balancing competing interests, and who has no stake in the outcome beyond the project’s ultimate success. Someone who by the very nature of their job as project leader is understood and trusted as having no axe to grind. This is an incredibly powerful mechanism for progress because it allows stakeholders to be more comfortable with tough choices they might otherwise avoid.
Notice something interesting? None of these factors are related to the size or complexity of the planned initiative. Whether you are doing a massive infrastructure upgrade that affects every business unit in the company, or launching a new product line, or implementing a new way of handling team resources, getting a grip on these factors ahead of time will put you well on your way to avoiding project gridlock.