Courtney Lyder was curious. He wanted to know how many of his employees at the UCLA School of Nursing had read the most recent 10-year plan that was about to expire. It was more than 20 pages long and Lyder had a pretty good idea what kind of response he was going to get.
“The answer was very few,” says Lyder, who is dean at the 150-employee school. “My rational was if we have a plan that is 20 pages long that no one is going to read, why do we have it?”
Unfortunately for his team, Lyder had a solution.
“So I was convinced that a 20-page plan is something that no one is going to read,” Lyder says. “And 10 years is a very long time in business. So I said I wanted a new plan that was no more than five pages. They said, ‘You’re crazy. It’s not going to happen.’”
So what do you do when you see something that needs to be done and your people don’t believe they can do it? You can start out by giving them reassurance that they can in fact do it, but you then need to move quickly into selling your plan as to how they actually will do it.
“There has to be a sense of trust between the leader and the employees,” Lyder says. “They have to buy into the sales pitch.”
Lyder talked about how important it is for an organization to have direction. People need to know why they are doing what they are doing and what it actually accomplishes.
“For me, if I don’t have a plan, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Lyder says. “If we don’t know what we are aspiring to, then how are we going to look at tomorrow?”
Lyder needed to sell his team on the need for a plan, but he also needed to sell them on a plan to develop that plan.
“Knowing the culture of my organization, I have discovered that we get much more buy-in when people feel part of the decision-making process,” Lyder says.
So Lyder created a task force. He selected the people for the group because he felt like he could construct a team that would work well together and have a good shot at accomplishing his directive. He didn’t want to force anyone to join it and he didn’t want people who would just give each piece of the project a rubber stamp.
“I wanted people who would critically analyze and look at our brand and the previous plan and ask questions,” Lyder says. “How will we reimagine what we do?”
Ideally, you create a task force that has an odd number of people. And it really shouldn’t have more than 15 people if you want it to function effectively.
“If you have more than 15 people on a task force, it just becomes chaos,” Lyder says.
Once the task force was put together and a chairman was appointed to lead it, Lyder backed off and let them do their work.
“The key is if you’re getting regular routine updates on the progress or lack of progress,” Lyder says. “If I saw after two months that one page was written, that’s when I would intervene. That’s why it’s key for me being the leader to be in frequent conversations with the chair to get my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. It’s not that I want to shape what’s going on, but that they are moving. And if they are not moving, what’s the rationale? Maybe I do need to pay a visit.”
By taking a more hands-off approach while at the same time being an encouraging voice of support, Lyder’s team came through and came up with a new plan that looked at the next three to five years and was just two pages long.
“The key is to keep an open mind as to what the final product may be,” Lyder says. “Get the organization to embrace the document and make it a living document. In this particular exercise, the task force did a sterling job.”
How to reach: UCLA School of Nursing, (310) 825-3109 or nursing.ucla.edu
Give people a voice
One of the key aspects of developing a strategic plan is getting the support of everyone in your organization. You need to make everyone feel like they had a voice in its creation.
Courtney Lyder knew there was no way he could put all 150 of his people on a strategic planing task force and expect to get anything other than chaos. But he wanted those people who weren’t on the 11-member task force to feel like they were given a chance to offer their thoughts.
“We all have our biases,” Lyder says. “We all have to recognize that even the leader is biased to some extent. So you give every single employee ample opportunity to critique and to ask questions. Give them a chance to say, ‘This is crazy,’ or whatever.
Then you can go back to the committee and say, ‘We need to think about this perspective.’ Sometimes we might go, ‘That was a great suggestion. Why didn’t we think about that?’ As long as people think the process is transparent and have an opportunity to critique it, that alleviates a lot of the anxiety about the task force.”