Articulating initiatives is a discipline in itself. Many people are good at articulating their desires to deliverables and Initiatives on a verbal basis, but when they are to put it into writing, the trouble start.
How you wish to structure your initiative description, depends on personal/corporate preference. If you are used to applying i.e. “Smart Goal Theory” methodology, you simply customize the description box into what you feel at home with.
If you on the other hand have no opinion on what structure to apply, or what methodology to be used, we suggest a structure based upon the Why, What and How.
When working with clients throughout the years, we every so often face the same questions:
- When should we use these three boxes?
- How should we use them?
The first few time you try it, you might get the boxes mixed up or simply find it difficult to figure out what to write in them, which is very natural since we are not used to think about it like that – although it would be beneficial (see Simon Sinek’s TED talk).
The purpose of this article is to guide you. To figure out what to put into the WHY, WHAT and HOW boxes in order for your initiatives to be described as clear and transparent as possible. This way anyone will be able to take over where it was left of and know in details where the initiative is headed, and how to get there.
If you are assigning someone to drive the initiative, clear guidelines will not only give the Responsible a better chance of knowing what they are getting themselves into, but more importantly what they are committing to.
WHY is this initiative needed?
This description box is intended for the purpose.
- What is the purpose of this initiative and why is it important?
- What is the background behind initiating this?
The idea is to get as close to what the problem is and why it is there, creating a substantiated platform for driving an initiative to completion. Studies have shown that motivation is very much driven by people feeling what they do makes sense. What this means is that the Why box is particularly important to fill out – in particular when you are delegating an intiative, where you need to tell why you are doing it.
MIT Professor Donald Sull underlines the importance of this description for the reasons we already talked about – but also for the reason that when circumstances change and people will need to change things of the Initiative, understanding the Why of the initiative will give them a chance to find an alternative route of solving the problem.
Besides this, a leader’s role is, first and foremost, to explain to the organization why a certain initiative is needed, what to achieve by executing it and by when – don’t you agree?
British Simon Senik also starts with Why – so does over 2 million viewers of his TEDx Talk (see link above) and readers of his bestseller book: “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”. Senik articulates how great leaders convince and create movement in organizations and societies by starting with the Why.
WHAT is to be achieved?
With the What you describe what goals should be achieved, efficiently specifying the deliverables. Dr. Stephen R. Covey preaches in his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people” the habit of: starting with the end in mind.
The more precise the picture of success is illustrated and articulated the higher the change for success is. Because what you actually do is describe how the success will look like for the person driving the initiative, i.e.
- Have we opened three more stores?
- Have we engaged in new partner structures?
- Have we opened up three new continents for sale?
Appreciative Inquiry developed by David Cooperrider includes the anticipatory principle that posits that what we do today is guided by our image of the future. Human systems are forever projecting ahead of themselves a horizon of expectation that brings the future powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent.
Finally goal theory teaches us that the more specific and measurable a goal is the better performance you will get. Sports people have for example used the power of visualization for decades in order to “program” them selves to achieve their goals.
Now visualize the outcome of your initiative and start articulating the picture of success i.e visualization that you imagine.
HOW would you do it?
Whether you or the person you would like to assign the initiative to should be describing how the initiative should be executed depends on the specific circumstances and should be assess case by case.
Our recommendation is that if you have a strong opinion on e.g.
- the stakeholders that should be included
- a certain process or methodology to be used
- specific milestones that you need to be achieved by a certain point
it would make sense for you to articulate the how box of the initiative description.