We have written before about one of the essential keys to VN success – hatting a champion. We take that one step further with this post with an interview on best practices of the champion with a past VN champion, Jen Jarvis.
What is the most critical role of a strategic planning champion?
The biggest and most important role of the champion is to make the plan a priority and create space in the organization for this to happen. If an organization has developed a strategic plan, they have, by definition, decided that they want to grow the organization, to create something that wasn’t there before. A champion’s key role is to make space for that to happen, to continue to keep the plan a priority. The champion is one who maintains accountability for the plan and holds it at an important level. For the organization to be successful, there needs to be a balance between the strategic plan and the day to day business. As the champion, you have to successfully blend what the organization is creating on the plan with what is done on a daily basis.
Why is it important to have a champion?
It is critical to have one. I have always said that “if it was about working harder, most of the organizations we work with would already be winning”. But we are in a time when it is not about how hard you work, but how smart you work. The way you work smarter is to have a plan. The old expression is true: “fail to plan, and you plan to fail”. So, if the plan itself is critical, is an essential way to work smarter, then to have one person assigned as champion to focus on and create space for the plan is equally critical. When everyone owns the plan, no one does, because then no one has final accountability for keeping it top of mind. If you aren‘t the champion, it doesn’t mean you don’t have any ownership, but the champion has the higher level of ownership and the responsibility to create the space for the work to happen.
How have you driven success on the PGS strategic plan?
I evaluate our check-ins and the pivoting/revisions on the plan. Are there changes being made, is the work being done, is movement happening? On our plan right now, we have sticky notes with new outcomes, x’s over outcomes we’ve removed, highlights on others. As champion, I make sure that we are getting things done on the plan, I bring it to the table. Further, if I am holding the team accountable for their execution, I need to make sure I am giving them what they need to be successful. If there is a stall on an outcome or project, what has created the stall? What does the team member need to get it moving again? I try to partner with the track leads to find out what we are missing to support their success. I get them what they need or advocate for their needs. You can’t put a plan in place then not give staff the resources to get it done.
What have you encountered that hindered success on the plan?
For PGS specifically, since we put our plan in place last November, we have gone through some structural changes, adding a new consultant and shuffling roles as we grow. I underestimated the impact of those changes on our plan, particularly bringing in new staff to take critical roles in the organization who had not been part of the planning process. Looking back, I should have had our team reevaluate our plan in light of the changes we were making internally. We stayed successful on our execution, but the strategic plan needed to be evaluated to assure continued alignment with the organizational goals and structure.
How do you manage the other players on the team to get the work done?
Communication with your team members is essential. When an individual is struggling with an outcome, as a champion, it is my job to help find the solution. For example, can we make one task into three and then delegate one or two of the smaller tasks to other staff members? Similarly, my role is to find out what they don’t know in order to finish a task. A champion is not a watchdog who points a finger when someone falls behind. The biggest mistake a champion can make is using the plan as a weapon for humiliation. Everyone has the intent to finish their work. The champion is the advocate who gets the tools or data the team member needs to move forward on a task. If they are not able to get something from someone else on the team, I can help get them what they need to move forward. A champion needs to be actively engaged. Everyone wants to be successful and on a winning team.
What one thing would you recommend to others driving a strategic plan?
Well, really, all of the above. Create the space and make sure you are using your plan as a tool in supporting achievement. Also, celebrate your successes along the way. Your vision is a long-term goal, a big push, and you do it because it is compelling and exciting. But it is made up of a lot of little successes along the way. Celebrate the foundational pieces you are completing as you finish them.
Are you the champion for your organization’s plan? Do you have questions or suggestions from your experience that others can use? Send us your thoughts. We would love to hear from you.