Xavier de Souza Briggs on "Getting Things Implemented"If you want a compact, rich introduction to the issues organizations must manage in order to devise and implement strategies that produce valuable outcomes, you will be well-served by working through the materials Xavier de Souza Briggs put together for a week-long course he delivered this January, just before taking a two-year leave from his MIT faculty appointment in urban studies and planning, to become Associate Director for General Government Programs at the US Office of Management and Budget.
"Getting Things Implemented: Strategy, People, Performance, and Leadership," geared to students of community planning, met for five sessions. The topics covered were:
- Creating public value, and
The craft of political management
(negotiation and coalition building)
Basic questions that need to be addressed: "What is worth implementing [What produces value?] and why? How does one go from concept to capacity and then 'production'? ... How to get things done responsibly and ethically when decisions cannot simply be imposed, downward and in a straightforward way, in a hierarchy?" Briggs emphasizes, "We want to be able to distinguish strong ideas, weakly implemented from bad ideas. These distinctions are often not easy to make but are hugely important for the support we can build for good ideas."
- Developing and changing organizational strategy
Here Briggs is talking about devising the means for accomplishing the organization's agreed mission. "The overall [strategic] challenge (and opportunity) is a powerful alignment: Lining up the value-creating idea with what the environment will support and what the organization (or team or alliance) is actually capable of producing." A key lesson: "There's no substitute for organized capacity, beyond any charismatic, smart, or otherwise talented individual."
- Strategic collaboration
(partnerships and alliances), and
Some key lessons about collaboration: "Effective collaboration often demands that implementers play a wide variety of roles well (strategic, operational, mobilization-focused, etc.)." "Collaboratives evolve through stages, navigated jointly: agreeing on a problem, developing strategy, implementing ('co-producing' change)." "Collaboratives can have wider ripple effects (political participation, policy reform, etc.)."
- Core elements of operating capacity:
organizational structure (e.g., by function, by customer segment), operational processes (mapped so as to highlight, e.g., bottlenecks), human resources
- Thinking like an implementer, and
Leadership (especially, leading change)
A key lesson: An effective implementer recognizes implementation issues (e.g., lack of funding, lack of operating capacity, opportunities for delivering more value, etc.) and develops skill in generating strategic options for addressing the issues.
Some core leadership concepts: exercising leadership vs. exercising authority; technical challenges (well-defined problems with known solutions) vs. adaptive challenges (fuzzy problems, unknown solutions); leadership styles; the need for a repertoire of various elements of emotional intelligence. Exercising leadership "is particularly important for motivating adaptation and risk taking, and thus deep change, in how implementation systems work."
The key lesson about performance management: "Systems of performance measures and rules and incentives coupled with them ('management') should align with broader strategies."
Key lessons: Organizational restructuring "invites resistance, requires political capital, proof of concept, supportive coalitions, etc." "Strategic human resource management addresses flows ([employee] entry, development, exit) and targets (motivation, reward, performance)."
Each section of the course (generally, two sections per session) ends with a summary of take-away lessons. For example the first lesson from the first session is that "having a goal is not the same as having a clear, actionable value proposition." A related lesson is that "Effective implementers must often help to define ends (value propositions), not just political or operational means."
The course concluded with a take-home exam which, in keeping with the rest of Briggs's materials, places the emphasis squarely on critical thinking and intelligent application of the concepts covered in the class ("value creation, political management, organizational strategy, collaboration, performance management, organizational design and process redesign, human resource management"). Briggs emphasizes quality, not quantity, in students' responses to the seven "word problems" he sets, as you can see by reading through his instructions for the exam and the sample solutions he provides (pdf files).