People fight for what they believe in, especially when they feel a sense of ownership. For strategic initiatives, leaders should help create those conditions for his or her team to increase the chances of success. In my experience, the best way to accomplish this is to invite the team to establish an image of success for the initiative to which each member feels connected.

The following is a proven framework that originated at the Center for Leadership Studies. This version, which has evolved over time through Fathom’s client work, takes the form of three questions and should make use of a whiteboard for the sake of collaboration.

1) What would need to be true about the organization* in 3 years** to call this initiative successful?

The intent: This question is designed to draw out the things the team would need to see or experience as a result of their efforts. It provides an opportunity for each member to uncover what is meaningful to them and to begin to understand they can have influence over how things turn out if they put their full selves into it.

How to use it: Without passing judgment, gather everyone’s thoughts (including your own). Once done, look at each point and make sure everyone on the team understands its meaning, clean up and simplify language, and consolidate similar ideas. Finally, check in with the team to ensure everyone agrees with the list and is willing to commit to each item. Remove anything the team can’t agree on.

Ways to customize it:

  • *It could be the whole organization, a division or function of it—should be whatever the initiative is designed to impact.
  • **Choose whatever time frame makes sense based on the scale of the effort. Those designed to create new realities should have longer time frames (3 years works best) and those meant to improve the current reality could have shorter time frames like six months or one year. (See this article for more details on this distinction.) 

2) What evidence would we need to see to confirm we are making headway?

The intent: It is essential for the team to see progress during the initiative’s development and integration. This question is designed to reveal the targets that can be used to measure that progress.

How to use it: Ask this question for each idea from the first exercise. Record all responses on the whiteboard and decide which are most relevant and measurable. These now become the targets to measure progress.

3) What conditions do we need to satisfy through the execution of this initiative?

The intent: Some requirements can have a profound impact on initiative implementation. This question is a chance to establish them and ensure the team understands the boundaries in which they need to operate.

Examples of these requirements could include:

  • Limitations/allocations: Completed within a certain timeframe, budget, or allocation of resources.
  • Outcomes/inclusions: Produces a particular financial outcome; includes a certain team.

How to use it: Write down each thought from the team and analyze each for relevancy, validity, and accuracy. Any that are found to be assumptions should be sidelined until facts can be found to support them.

Now, what?

  1. Once this exercise is complete, it is essential to validate the results with the sponsor of the initiative (the person with the executive power to commit resources to it). If this person is you, and you led this exercise, you are all set!
  2. Make the results the centerpiece of the initiative. Every idea, decision, and activity gets validated against them. Every member of the team should ask, at every turn, “How will this idea, or activity get us closer to our definition of success?” Eliminate anything that can’t be justified.
  3. The results should be revisited at the beginning of every meeting and validated with the team. This exercise will assure everyone continues to aim in the same direction and invites opportunities to modify plans if things about the initiative or organization have changed enough to merit recalibration.

This image of success is powerful tool to use when communicating your program with other teams essential to your success. It will allow them to get up to speed and be able to contribute meaningfully, faster. As a bonus, other teams might recognize that your initiative can positively impact their own, inviting even deeper engagement.


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