Muriel Barre, Founder and Director of Nexgen Innovation Consulting

Muriel Barre is a business transformation & change delivery expert with 25+ years of experience in top-tier consultancy and global organisations. She has worked in customer/process-focused, regulated environments and across the life cycle of projects, in the UK, Europe, Asia, and America. She has led her boutique transformation consultancy since 2011, helping leaders in Financial Services and Insurance to accelerate delivery and drive remarkable performance. Her superpower is getting things done and working collaboratively with leaders and teams to initiate and deliver business change, grasping problems quickly, making the complex simple, and working under pressure and ambiguity in pursuit of demanding objectives.

In a recent interview with Digital First Magazine, Muriel Barre discussed her experience with Fractional and Project Stewardship Consulting. She shared her views on strategies to execute strategy and driving projects to success, the importance of having engaged sponsors, high performing teams, mentoring, and many more.

What challenges leaders face in executing strategy and driving projects to success?

In every organisation I have worked in, a common struggle has been the lack of a real-time unified view of the execution of the strategy. We faced a lack of visibility into the status of goals, objectives, and key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with the strategy, as well as the progress of the delivery. Often, me and my team had to compile project delivery information to piece together a meaningful understanding of our execution status. This monthly process demanded significant time and effort, yet the information was obsolete upon completion, making the insights irrelevant. As a result, it was very difficult to discern what was working, what was not, and what we should prioritise, accelerate, or stop.

Motivated by this experience, I have committed to assisting client organisations in overcoming this hurdle and I am collaborating with best-in-class PPM solution vendors, to facilitate the implementation of their on-strategy-delivery platforms.

How important is executive project sponsorship in driving projects to success?

According to the Project Management Institute, 1 in 3 unsuccessful projects fails to deliver business outcomes due to poorly engaged executive project sponsors.

Effective sponsorship can be the difference between project success and project failure, and consequently organisation success. It provides visible leadership support, aligns project objectives with organisational goals, secures necessary resources, and facilitates decision-making processes. Moreover, executive sponsors can help overcome organisational barriers, resolve conflicts, and champion the project’s importance across different departments and stakeholders.

Organisations require an executive to sponsor change and take accountability for successful delivery, yet in my 25+ years of experience, I have witnessed many sponsors enter their roles without formal training, relying solely on their experience and instincts. Many sponsors also lack the necessary bandwidth for effective project oversight. This lack of capability and capacity is a serious threat to organisations’ ability to execute on strategic initiatives and drive projects to success.

This is why I have developed my own solution to this challenge. For C-level executives who are sponsoring business change within their organisations, my “Project Sponsorship Accelerator” provides a sponsor capability up-lift and capacity augmentation through fractional project stewardship so they can amplify transformative change within their organisation.

My solution is supported by a free capability assessment tool “The Sponsor Scorecard” available on my website. Sponsors can use the tool to discover how they score against high-performance sponsorship indicators and to gain clarity on where they are on their sponsorship journey. I help them get to the very top of their game as a sponsor so they can navigate change successfully.

What strategies can executives employ to obtain the support they need to drive and sustain project success over time?

Executives can employ several strategies to drive project success. These include clearly articulating the project’s strategic significance and benefits, promoting a clear vision for the change, engaging key stakeholders early in the process, fostering a culture of accountability and collaboration, ensuring people have the capability and the capacity to change, establishing effective project governance, and actively communicating progress and milestones.

In my experience, projects also thrive when executives lead the charge and set the tone from the top. Regardless of the proficiency or capability of a project team, success hinges on genuine accountability from leadership.

What are the key factors that contribute to successful leadership development initiatives?

According to the Project Management Institute, on-the job training is the most common way for executives to acquire knowledge and skills. Better project outcomes are achieved when organisations offer formal development (i.e. executive coaching, mentoring from other executive sponsors, and external development opportunities).

Reflecting on my journey, mentoring had an incredible impact on my career. I have been fortunate to connect with experienced professionals who generously shared their wisdom, insights, and experiences, and I am deeply grateful for the invaluable lessons they have imparted. I now also offer mentoring to those who are navigating similar journeys to mine, drawing from my own experiences. If you are seeking guidance or support, feel free to reach out.

How do you define high-performing teams, and why is it important for organisations to invest in team-building activities?

Research consistently highlights that teamwork is at the heart of every successful transformation, yet I know from experience that it is not always a smooth ride.

In my view three aspects set high-performing teams apart: Common Understanding, Shared Purpose, and Psychological Safety. Common Understanding is achieved when everyone comprehends how their individual expertise and tasks contribute to the team’s overall success and the organisation’s performance. Team members thrive when they share a common purpose and understand the positive impact of their work on others. A culture of psychological safety is where team members feel comfortable expressing themselves, asking questions, voicing concerns, and even disagreeing. This open environment encourages diverse perspectives, reduces mistakes, and fosters proactive intervention.

In my experience, cultivating these three elements is the roadmap to fostering high-performing teams that drive meaningful change and success.

What methodologies or approaches can someone use to assess team dynamics and identify areas for improvement?

Various methodologies and approaches can be used to seek real-time feedback from your people on the state of your team, department, or organisation. Research highlights that a staggering 65% of mega projects fail, and often, the root cause isn’t technical and lies within the complexities of the human element. From unspoken concerns to cultural nuances, the invisible human dynamics can create a system of failure that jeopardizes project success.

Personally, I know that many leaders are tired of having to wait for the annual engagement survey or traditional HR tool and this is why I am offering my client an innovative diagnostic tool for the C-suite which combines  the science of sensemaking and organizational experience (OX) data. The tool empowers leaders to decode early warning signs so they can take action to proactively foster a positive and successful project environment. In a world where projects navigate constant uncertainties, I am confident this tool will revolutionise project management, turning potential pitfalls into opportunities for growth.

How do you define fractional transformation and project stewardship consulting, and how does it differ from other types of consulting?

In today’s dynamic business landscape, marked by tight budgets and a pressing need for immediate returns on investment, I understand the importance of providing organisations with flexible access to high-level expertise during pivotal transformations or organizational changes. I am proud to meet the evolving demands of the market by offering fractional services. Fractional transformation consulting involves providing strategic guidance and support to organisations undergoing significant transformation or organisational change but on a part-time or fractional basis. This approach allows organisations to access high-level expertise without the commitment of a full-time hire. Project stewardship consulting focuses on overseeing specific change initiatives and projects from inception to completion, ensuring alignment with organisational goals, managing risks, and optimising resources. There are several benefits to securing a fractional transformation expert. They bring expertise on demand, bringing specialised knowledge and experience that may not be internally available, especially in handling complex change dynamics. Hiring a part-time expert can be more cost-effective than employing a full-time executive or overburdening existing leaders. Finally, they offer dedicated support for the transformation journey, providing the attention and focus that time-poor executives might be unable to consistently allocate.

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