First, the positives: The effort these two execs were backing had the support of the company’s board and C-level . leaders. So they had that all important support from the top. This wasn’t a particularly politically charged effort, so they weren’t fighting those battles. The executives themselves had strong reputations. They had funding and a staff in place. So far, so good.
Now, the challenges: This effort was new to their organization. It involved new processes and new accountabilities. It also involved technology changes that were difficult to explain to non-technical colleagues. Moreover, success involved the active support of managers from C-level executives down to mid-level managers. It was this string of managers who would make or break the program as they enforced (or didn’t) the new processes and accountabilities.
To gain that support, these two execs had recruited a half-dozen leads who were requesting one-on-one meetings to explain the importance of the effort and to ask for support. Each meeting followed the same format: the program lead explained what the project was, what it would accomplish, and what would be required from the manager’s group. Then they would ask for support and set next steps.
Now pause. We’ve already established that the program executives couldn’t recite a succinct description of the program itself. Could their program leads? Or were the program leads slapping a PowerPoint on the table with the explanation that, “The answers are in there.”
Now back to you. As an astute leader yourself, you know the importance of first impressions. When you’re pitching a project, program or technology, you know that your colleagues will probably form an opinion in that first minute about whether your effort is going to be successful, how strongly they want to be associated with it, and how they regard you for backing it. So, those words in the program description can be critical.
What’s highlighted in your program definition, and the specific words used, tell the world:
- Who you’re trying to engage
- What you’re trying to change or introduce
- What you expect of participants.
Programs that succeed know exactly who they want to involve, what they want to happen, and what successful engagement and results look like.
Because these few words are so important, you should learn the elevator speech associated with your program and you should vet that speech, especially the portion that describes what the effort is. Examine every word to ensure that it sends exactly the message you think is required to form a positive first impression.
Let’s consider some different definitions for a single discipline or program to see how the wording of these definitions sends different messages to program stakeholders. As an example, we’ll use definitions of data governance. Consider the details they focus on. Do they project a strategic or tactical perspective? Consider the subliminal messages they might send: Will participants need to be tech-savvy? How hard will the work be?
We’ll start with the definition of data governance introduced by the Data Governance Institute: