One of the most interesting books I've read lately is "The New How" by Nilofer Merchant.
She contends how strategy is made now only affects the execution but is, intrinsically, part of execution.
Typically decisions to solve important problems are made at the top, then leaders have to explain the new initiatives to the staff who have to execute.
For local media executives, this means not only explaining, but inspiring, coaxing, training, ordering, building alliances and so on, that is today a normal function of leadership required to transform companies to new business models.
Mechant contends that top down initiatives naturally create an "air sandwich," ie pockets of resistance from middle managers and other teams who are "just not that into it."
She argues for brainstorming strategies that flesh out top priorities and criteria with the people in charge of executing, and then running the set of solutions against the criteria with this same core interdepartmental group - ie the team that will execute the plan.
In the case of local media companies in transition, the priorities are fairly simple: Grow revenues and traffic. Now fill in a percentage for 2011.
But developing the criteria is much more complex. Will we launch 'me, too' products if they generate revenue and how much revenue is enough? Focus on mobile? How many products can our teams sell effectively? Do we have the resources to pull this off? Will we invest more if the project is a high revenue initiative, and what is high enough revenue? How many people will this take and is it too many?
Nilofer recommends a process in which the team leader summarizes a list of criteria that is generally understood then opens this up to brainstorming. Interestingly, the longest and most important step is actually to flesh out the criteria by using testing the teams ideas against it. Suddenly concerns about priorities and execution bubble to the surface and are incorporated.
The New How calls the formal brainstorming process "Murderboarding," since at the end of the process up to a hundred ideas are posted on the white board, then slowly killed off by matching against criteria until the best ones emerge.
A simple Google search will unearth a dozen good brainstorming techniques, but the key take away here is getting the team who will execute involved in creating strategy. They don't have to be the experts who come up with the vision, or technology, but they can help set criteria and discussing how ideas will actually work.
This is the chance for people to say they need more staff to pull it off or bring up other execution-related issues.
If the process can solve even 20% of the internal drag, it may be worth the extra meeting.
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