What words do you use to describe important projects? Do initiatives do something different than imperatives? Is a program bigger than a project?
I would like to introduce two definitions. You can apply whatever term you want to the definitions but I am going to call them initiatives and imperatives. In order to understand the difference between these terms lets look at a simplified model for business.
In our first visual we see a representation of a business. The revenue is flat, the expenses are increasing, and leadership has identified a new trajectory following True North to their Vision. As a means of accomplishing this, leadership has authorized a portfolio of initiatives. The role of the initiatives is to improve the performance of the business so as to make progress toward True North.
So far this looks like a lot of strategic plans. The initiatives result in step changes to current performance. In your plan the initiatives may last several years. The problem we run into at this point is simply, how do we fund the initiatives? In a time of waning profits how do we find the resources to take a chance on moving forward with initiatives that may or may not yield the outcomes we expect?
This is where the imperatives step in. Imperatives are efforts specifically targeting the resources required to adequately resource part or all of an initiative. Imperatives differ from standard cost cutting in that they do not look for and eliminate waste in any area they can find. Imperatives specifically target resources in areas that will support initiatives.
As an example, let’s say I have an imperative to improve sales that requires a sales person, half a marketer and two customer service people. I would specifically charge my efficiency team to free up those resources without detracting from the ability to meet existing requirements. I would further let them know what the initiative was so we had a shared understanding of what the specific talent requirements are for the initiative.
This can have a positive impact on teams undergoing the efficiency exercises of getting leaned, six-sigma-ed or whatever efficiency tool set you use. Let’s say our efficiency team is just targeting waste. They walk into a team of thirty two customer service agents and say, “We are going to conduct an efficiency exercise and hope to eliminate two of your jobs. Who is excited about that?”
Alternatively the efficiency team can walk in and say, “We are here supporting a new growth initiative. We need to free up two people to help support this effort. Who’s excited about that?”
Instead of just wandering around the organization looking for better efficiency, the imperative teams are targeting places where the resource can produce the greatest value for the organization. These are strategic imperatives in that they support strategic initiatives.
This effort can be planned out over the course of several years and should fit with a talent management and development plan. If we are going to need people with enhanced skills for planned initiatives doesn’t it make sense to start developing them now for roles we know we will need in the future? Does it make sense to begin work on making the departments that will provide these people more efficient in order to make it less of a shock when they are needed to move elsewhere?
As a leader are you supporting your initiatives with the imperatives to resource them?
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