Turning strategy into action: Getting the experience part right

Turning strategy into action is an overwhelmingly logical process.  Except for the 75% of it that’s emotional.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been involved in three separate conversations around the “strategy to action” process.  (Two were with clients, one inside ERM.) In each case, a big group session was planned to kick off the next step of the process. In each case, the process sponsors wrestled with two big challenges:

  • Aiming for too many outcomes.  We get greedy.  We want to get everything accomplished at once.  As we get more demands on travel budgets and schedules, face-to-face time becomes scarcer and more valuable. The natural reaction is to load everything into the agenda and get everything done in one meeting.  That produces an over-crowded, over-ambitious agenda that spins participants from topic to topic with more speed than substance. Which, in turn, makes the face time more frustrating and less productive.
  • Forgetting about the experience as we focus on the outcomes.  Outcomes are  important, but the participants are people, not cogs or chips.  Bad human experience seldom produces good outcomes.  Bad experience is even less likely to create learning, commitment, effective co-creation or an on-going community.

These aren’t new thoughts.  We’ve all had them, usually while sitting through a painful meeting someone else planned.  Think about the last one of these you sat through. The planner’s desired outcome was probably a laundry list of objectives.  Your desired outcomes were probably simpler: don’t get embarrassed, don’t pick up new assignments, and maybe get some other useful work done while no one’s looking.

These aren’t original thoughts.  Others have spelled them out before me.  Most notably, late last year my friend and strategy colleague Francis Gouillart wrote an eloquent plea for “Human experience before process, please” that’s well worth reading.

The challenge is to remember to scale down our objectives and scale up our attention to the human experience when we are the ones planning the process:

  • Do we know what the one most important outcome is?  What do we really need participants to know, understand, believe or do differently as a result of the process?  (If we don’t know that, why are we asking people to participate?)
  • Do we respect and value the experience participants bring with them to a session? Do we recognize their experience and give participants a chance to apply it to our process?
  • Does the process create the right experience?  Do we give people a chance to share insights and influence the outcome, or do we make them a passive audience?
  • Is the experience being provided at the right stage of the process?  Are we bringing people in to swallow a predetermined, precooked outcome?  Or are we giving them a chance to help choose the menu and cook the meal?

Maybe there’s a golden rule of process: Design the experience for others as you would have others design the experience for you.

[Opinions on this site are solely my own and do not necessarily represent the views of ERM, its partners or clients.]