A Business Lesson From the Debt Deal

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Published October 17, 2013

| FOXBusiness

There really is a silver lining in the behavior on Capitol Hill over the past few weeks. The crackling debates, snarly standoffs and prickly posturing of political leaders serve as clear evidence that 11th-hour planning stinks.

There’s no reason to fall in that trap with your department as 2014 looms large. Now is the time to get your strategic game plan moving, without alienating or annoying anyone.  

My PAPA model keeps you and your team engaged during the process. Follow these four steps and avoid the kind of spectacle that one senator called “an agonizing odyssey.”

Here’s what to do:

P: Poll. Go beyond your own perspective and gather the opinions of others on challenges and priorities for the coming year. Create an online poll for fast and easy data collection. Make sure that you ask the right questions in a straight-forward, open manner. If you think any of your prospective poll takers will shy away from true candor in their responses, then make the poll anonymous. Fuzzy data won’t help your cause.

A few good starter questions are: What are the top two challenges on your professional radar screen for 2014? What are the top two challenges that you think our customers face in 2014? Provide response selections, such as business development, innovation, product/service pipeline, employee engagement, economic uncertainty and competitive threats. You can see additional answers as well as examples of other helpful questions in the 2014 Workplace Trends Report, just released based on research conducted by my company.

Keep the poll concise, around six to eight questions. Be sure to include instructions that clearly explain its purpose and how the data will be used to develop a 2014 business plan.

A: Analyze. Gather and sort feedback quickly. Five days is ample time for conducting a brief poll. Designate a neutral, third-party partner to collect completed polls. Find a trusted colleague in another department, such as marketing or finance where numbers-crunching is second nature. Another option is to enlist the expertise of an outside firm that specializes in measurement. Use colorful bar charts to make quantitative data easily digestible. Ensure that every written response to open-ended questions is presented intact — without any clean-up or editing. Data integrity is essential for fully understanding the perspective of others.

Once you’ve got the stats, bring your team together and share the results, openly. Let them see and interpret the results. Various perspectives widen the scope for learning! Create an open forum by listening more and asking questions. Don’t let rank get in the way of candor.  

P: Prioritize. Find common threads in the diversity of team members’ comments. Gain consensus around what the group sees as collective challenges for the coming year. The operative word here is collective. Keep the team focused first on the organizational big picture—the “we” factor--before they zone in on the “me factor” of their individual roles.

Avoid creating to-do lists of 20 imperatives. Organizations, regardless of size, don’t have the stamina for understanding or successfully implementing a lengthy menu of rapid-fire initiatives. So, simplicity matters. Give team members three votes to cast, real-time, for the top priorities. Once votes are in, compile the Top Five, reactivate open discussion about each one, and then drive consensus around the Big Three imperatives and results for 2014 success. Yes, that’s a tough task.  Gaining agreement may require a skilled facilitator to reign in grandstanding, silence blabbermouths and keep discussion on point. Do it. You’ll be pleased with the results--a game plan with three clear and measurable goals that departments, work teams and individuals can understand and align with.

A: Activate. Now it’s time for the big reveal. Widely share your plan of attack for 2014. Help employees understand the inclusive process used to develop the plan, first; then discuss the actual tenants of the final plan. The use of polling to gather many views and provide inclusivity should muffle criticisms of “corporate” mandates that typically choke a workforce when annual goals are set. Engage members of your planning team to introduce and champion the new plan. Don’t make it your solo job and risk the plan being seen as strictly yours rather than “ours.” Finally, keep the plan a regular topic of conversation with employees. Many companies introduce annual plans with great fanfare. However, attention quickly gets distracted and the chatter simmers. A strategic plan should unite and motivate a workforce for 12 months. It should be talked up, often. Make it a powerful magnet for organizational camaraderie.  

Don’t be intimidated by the task and trigger your own personal shutdown. Working together with your team or by enlisting the help of third-party professionals will provide your business with a strategic plan that is targeted and effective.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.  in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.

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