Working Forward and Backward

Start with quick wins to establish a master plan BY DAVID DeFILIPPO

David DeFilippo is chief learning officer for Suffolk.
He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.


ike any field, the learning and talent profession requires a certain amount of expertise that comes from a combination of education and experience. Along with those capabilities there are different opinions and approaches to carrying out this work, all of which are valid in their own right. As practitioners, we need to leverage our skills and experience to achieve results for the sake of our organizations. Therein lies one of the perennial challenges between developing perfect versus practical solutions.

Knowing that the world and the enterprises in which we serve continue to move and innovate faster than ever, the question becomes how to work within them in a way that sets them up for long-term success and delivers tangible results. I have found three ways to approach this challenge that have both provided me with learning and served me well over the years: a combination of defining the master plan, breaking it down into quick wins and using that progress to take on next challenges.

One of the biggest challenges I see practitioners struggle with is developing their game plan (or strategic plan) in the face of stakeholders’ desire for immediate progress. Whether tasked with starting up a new function or turning around an existing one, beginning with a “plan for the plan” is a key step to demonstrate that one has a process that leads to a strategic plan. By being transparent about this process, stakeholder expectations can be managed effectively. For example, this plan might take shape as a 30- or 100-day road map based on the size and scope of the challenge. Additionally, you may feel more comfortable at this stage responding to questions with less concrete answers, such as, “I really don’t know until I conduct the due diligence to identify the issues and proposed solutions.” At this stage, knowing one’s process to gather data to then develop a plan is more important than sharing the eventual solutions.

The next step is where the meat gets put on the bones: developing a long-term approach based on internal and external benchmarking in order to define the way forward for the next two to three years. Developing these schemes as one-page documents so they are visually digestible and succinct is an effective way to communicate recommendations to stakeholders.

At this point, the prioritization of work and rationale for that prioritization is critical. Developing solutions in the ideal sequence or picking the critical few that will have the greatest impact can be difficult. Based on my experience, I recommend developing the holistic plan and then sequencing the development and implementation of the highest-impact solutions first while ensuring they are forward-and-backward compatible with the entire system.

Beginning with a “plan for the plan” is a key step.

For example, when confronted with the choice between working on revenue-generating talent solutions versus functional areas — and knowing that the highest business impact will result from income-producing areas — practitioners are best served to first address the higher-impact areas and then scale that same model to address the functional areas.

Finally, with the plan complete and the highest​-impact initiatives prioritized, the tactical work can begin. The key to this phase is the oft-cited need for “quick wins” to build credibility and support. Executive coach and leadership expert Steve Arneson said, “It is all about putting trophies on the shelf in the early days of a change agenda.”

The bottom line is the most important part of this stage in demonstrating the capability to get the highest-impact work done. In doing this, there is subtle yet real value in communicating and celebrating these early wins to build team and stakeholder confidence. With demonstrable progress on significant business issues, the opportunity to advance one’s plan and move to those next priorities is created.

The key to this planning and execution process is to design part of the system so it fits together regardless of sequence. While counterintuitive on the surface, moving forward and backward from quick wins to accomplish a multiyear plan is a way that human capital practitioners can serve their organizations in a practical and meaningful way.