What is required are practical ways of mixing your institutional management processes with your stated strategic objectives, not in an abstract or artificial way but in ways which are co-ordinated, mutually supportive and integrated.
Our portfolio, programme and project management resources provide detailed guidance on how to manage an integrated suite of initiatives aimed at achieving change in pursuit of agreed strategic objectives. It includes the following three top tips for senior managers when managing a portfolio of change initiatives:
- Develop a robust attitude to risk
- Develop a flexible approach to planning
- Develop the readiness for change
With reference to the second of these points the concept of the ‘sliding planning window’ means only planning ahead so far as is feasible and sensible at the time. It is also known as rolling wave planning. Our project management guide includes a further list of ‘top tips’ when it comes to effective planning.
It is vital that progress against your planning is constantly monitored to ensure that you remain on target to achieve your strategic objectives. After all, even with the best planning in the world it is inevitable that changing circumstances will necessitate regular changes to your intended approach.
The sooner that you acknowledge a potential issue, risk or change the sooner you are able to reflect on its implications and make the necessary decisions required to keep your progress on track. Broader issues relating to monitoring and evaluation are addressed in the fourth and final stage of this guide but specifically in relation to the planning and activity cycle it is worth considering the regularity with which you are going to monitor progress.
One way of making such monitoring activity a more seamless part of regular management activity is to reorganise the agendas of management team meetings so that they directly relate to discussing progress in relation to specific agreed strategic objectives. This may also help drive progress towards them by directly allocating responsibility for the completion of tasks to particular members of the management team.
35% of the boards of governors who took part in a survey conducted by the CUC in 2008 reviewed their KPIs ‘at each meeting’ suggests that many institutions see the value of regular monitoring as part of established management and governance procedures.
An alternative approach is to set up new and distinct processes for setting targets, monitoring progress and revising objectives. Some commentators support the notion of 30 or 90 day planning and review cycles whereby every month (or three months) those with responsibility for realising the institution’s strategic objectives meet to identify the most important actions that need to be taken and to make someone responsible for that action.
In 30 or 90 days’ time the group meet again to update on progress, refine the goals where necessary and then repeat the process again. Such meetings should be kept brisk, brief and focused and deliberately light in terms of paperwork.
The important thing is the constant process of monitoring, reflection and realignment in the light of changing circumstances that this approach engenders – not creating reams of unnecessary reporting documents. Alternatively, if regularly getting the required people in the same place proves impractical updates and new objectives can be discussed and reported using a wiki or other online forum.
What matters most is that strategy is transformed from something distant, remote and only needing consideration at particular points of the year to something that is immediate, relevant, directive and measurable.
If people complain that all this talk about strategy and focus on meeting strategic objectives somehow ‘gets in the way’ of their work or is otherwise distracting and burdensome it suggests that you have not yet succeeded in truly aligning your day to day operations with your strategic activity. Work, therefore, still remains to be done in truly integrating the two.
Our change management guide has further information on how to prevent and overcome resistance to change and to generate support and positive momentum for your plans.
See also our guide on 'portfolio management.'