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What is the People Impact of Your Strategy or Initiative?

Leaders and sponsors tend to be well versed in the business benefits of their strategies and initiatives. That is ‘music to the ears’ of senior management and shareholders, but how much does it really mean to most of the people involved in or affected by a project or strategy?

It is time for leaders to address the needs of a wider audience or broader group of stakeholders. To do this, they must consider not just the business impact of their strategies and initiatives, but the people impact too.

Beyond Business Impact

To access power and resources leaders must effectively communicate how their plans and projects will contribute to the organization’s performance and shape its future success too.

To communicate Business Impact executives are armed with detailed forecasts, vision statements and fancy slide decks. All this is great for engaging senior management, as well as the board and the shareholder/investor audience. However, there is a vital dimension that often gets overlooked.

Addressing People Impact

Business Impact is key, but leaders often forget that a business is made up of people – that means they must address the people impact too.

Leaders talk about why their initiatives matter to the business, but often neglect to talk about why they matter to the people involved. The result is a focus on the items on the left of the table, with little attention to those on the right.

Matters to the BusinessMatters to the People
Growth
Profitability
Efficiency, Lean
Productivity, Performance
Consolidation
Cost-reduction
Change, Innovation
Competitive Advantage
Optimization, Automation
Speed & Agility
Headcount
Job Security Pay & benefits
Status, Recognition & Appreciation
Personal well-being
Learning & Personal Growth
Career Progression
Rewarding/Meaningful Work (e.g. Exciting Projects)
Job Satisfaction
Working with interesting people
Social Connections / Friends at Work

Pause for a moment to reflect on the above table and answer the following questions:

  • Has your strategy or initiative got the right balance between what matters to the business and what matters to its people?
  • Is there enough focus on right-hand side of the above table?

To communicate a rise in business performance or shareholder earnings is not enough.  These may mean little to the majority of people who will be involved in or affected by a strategy or initiative.

Positive Business Impact – Negative People Impact

People have heard it all before and are rightly suspicious. When they hear business benefits, they think people costs.  Indeed, most of the business language used to describe the benefits of strategies and initiatives have the potential to trigger negative reactions and emotions. For example, when people hear ‘efficiencies’ or ‘productivity’ they think ‘job cuts’. Thus, as business leaders talk about their initiatives, people can become fearful and go into protective mode.

The question is: Are you using any words that can generate anxiety or fear? Check against the list of words on the left-hand side of the table above. Are there some words that you are over-using?

People Impact – Local Impact

Most people are naturally going to be more concerned about the impact on themselves, rather than on the business, its over-paid senior management, and faceless shareholders.

It is natural that people will tune into WIIFM that is what’s in it for me. If they’re going to make sacrifices they have to see an upside. To bear sacrifices they have to know that others are making sacrifices too – that those asking for the sacrifices to be made are making the same sacrifices too. 

To paraphrase a former English Prime Minister ‘people are more concerned with what is happening in their garden than what is happening in the country or the world’. This is clearly evident in organizations. The implication is that sponsors need to talk about what is happening for people at the ‘garden fence’ level!

There may be 20,000 people working for the organization, but we really only know and care about a small proportion of that number. The most important is our immediate group of colleagues and friends – those whom we work with most closely – our unit, department or team.

Talking about the organizational impact of a strategy or initiative therefore often misses the mark. For most people the local impact of any strategy or initiative matters most.

Who are the Winners & Losers?

For every initiative there will be winners and losers.  There will also be those for whom the impact will be neutral. So, break your audience into these 3 groups and adapt your approach accordingly.  You will be hoping that some of the people who think that they are in the loser group, could with more information, be moved to some other groups. 

Even those who are likely to be overall winners may have some misgivings. That is because fear of loss can be more powerful than the prospect of gain. People often spend more time counting their losses than their gains! They will likely need your help to see that they will indeed be better off.

What must people let go of?

Chances are people are going to have to let something go. To leave something behind or make some change as part of your strategy or initiative. They may have to:

  • trade an old system or process for a new one
  • adopt new ways of working
  • work in a new or different team
  • report in a different way or to a different person
  • let go of some areas they were previously responsible for
  • lose their identity as a team / part of a team
  • let go of certainty or clarity – take a leap into the unknown
  • give up some power, autonomy or freedom, etc.

Discover what it is that people fear letting go of and why.

People have heard it all before!

People have heard it all before, so they are going to be skeptical. Is it your job to convince them? Well, go slowly. Sage project sponsors have learned to listen and understand before going into ‘selling mode’ on their projects. 

When people are ‘in the dark’ there anxieties and concerns grow. Thus, sharing information is essential.

Letting people talk about their hopes and concerns is a vital first step. That means showing that you are genuinely interested and that their concerns matter. This is an exercise in perspective taking – in stepping into the shoes of others. It requires a certain degree of empathy.  

What are the Talent Implications?

Almost every strategy or initiative has talent implications in one way or another. Calling these out as part of your strategy is important. So too is integrating your initiative with the HDR strategy. For example, what are the implications for people’s development paths, skills development initiatives, and so on.

The Process of Dialog

It is essential that you engage your people in a dialog around what a strategy or initiative means to them – will it help them:

  • to advance their careers
  • to specialize or learn new skills / technologies
  • to do more rewarding or interesting work
  • exercise more control over their work
  • tackle some of the frustrations they face (e.g. bureaucracy).  

It is essential to engage with people’s genuine fears and concerns. It is not about reaching for the loudspeaker, but rather engaging with and listening to people.

It is More Work for Project Leaders?

You may be thinking where am I going to find the time to do this?  The project team is already likely to be maxed-out in terms of doing the work now there is this additional task communications and marketing challenge as well.  The question is how much time will it cost if you don’t do it?

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