Effective Demands Should Be Less Demanding

Effective Demands Should Be Less Demanding


“I want talent and succession plans for each leader and his or her direct reports by the end of the year!”

So said the President of a regional pharmaceutical organization to no one in particular during a meeting of his executive team.

The company had recently conducted a series of new product launches, and managing talent was going to be a key aspect of driving success of the new lines. During this meeting, the President made it clear that this effort was an important priority and made a general statement about when it should be completed. Everyone in the room nodded their heads and left the meeting confident the challenge could be achieved.

Unfortunately, two months later limited progress had been made and there was little evidence that the President’s demand would be met.

What happened? Certainly, some unanticipated events occurred, which required leadership team attention. And the HR function lost a few resources. But most importantly, the demanding statement that the President made was not turned into an effective assignment.

An effective assignment – or demand – is a critical component in carrying out a major change. And it entails much more than a passionate announcement. At minimum it should include clear expectations about what is to be achieved, the time frame for delivery, and the single person who is accountable for achieving the outcome. Naturally, this person will engage all the critical stakeholders, but the executive should put one person in the position of being responsible for coordinating and overseeing the work.

Another key element of an effective demand actually comes from the accountable person, though it is the demand maker who should request it. And that is a plan for how the outcome will be achieved. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a 20-page project plan with resource grids and GANTT charts. On the contrary, it could be a short narrative of the project approach with a simple list of key milestones and critical stakeholders. There are three benefits to developing this plan:

  1. It forces the accountable person – and any other key stakeholders – to do some thinking about the assignment and develop their strategy for achieving the required outcome.
  2. It gives the demand maker comfort that there is an approach, as well as a chance to influence how the project team goes about its work.
  3. The plan gives everyone involved a roadmap by which to monitor progress.

Below is a short demand-making process that puts these ideas together.

Schaffer Consulting Demand-Making Process

 In the pharmaceutical company experience above, two critical elements of an effective demand were missing: the President did not identify a single accountable person, and he did not ask for a plan of how the talent and succession plans would be developed. Consequently, no one was feeling any urgency to make it happen, and any work done in support of the effort was uncoordinated and ineffective. Once he recognized these deficiencies and took steps to rectify them, the project was re-launched with greater focus and resolve.

What are some of your experiences with demand making? Where have you seen good demand-making processes?

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