There are two things a leader can influence when it comes to producing results: your strategy [plan] and your ability to execute [implement] that strategy.
Which of these do you struggle with the most? Is it creating a strategy, or executing that strategy?
Every MBA program I know of teaches strategy but few that I’ve heard of spend much time, if any, teaching how to execute that strategy.
Figuring out what you want to do is relatively easy; the challenge comes in getting people to implement or execute on that strategy at a level of excellence you want and need.
Executing a strategy that requires a lasting change in the behavior of people is one of the biggest challenges any leader faces.
In the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, the authors talk about two kinds of strategy:
One is a “stroke-of-pen” strategy, things like capital investment, expansion of staff, process change, strategic acquisition, media mix or change in product mix. It’s called a stroke-of-pen strategy because you execute it simply by ordering or authorizing it to be done.
The other type of strategy is a behavioral-change strategy. This is something you can’t just order to get done because executing it requires the buy-in and cooperation of people. Examples are: improved customer service, higher quality, faster responsiveness, consistency in the delivery of your offering, or one I am very familiar with is implementing a one-best-price strategy for an auto dealership. To execute this strategy requires a change in the behavior of every employee.
Leaders tend to not recognize a behavioral-change strategy for its significance and difficulty until they attempt to execute. Typical is for leaders to assume the people are the problem. But they would be wrong. W. Edwards Deming taught that any time the majority of the people have a behavioral problem, the people are not the problem, the system is.
The very first thing to address is the clarity of the strategic desired end result through messaging. Research indicates that less than 1 of 5 employees could articulate, much less understand, the organizations wildly important goal or goals.
And of those that did know and understand the strategic objective, only about half could say they were passionate about it. Lack of commitment then is the second thing to address.
Thirdly, accountability is another major issue. A staggering 80% said they were not held accountable for achieving the strategic desired end result and finally, about 90 percent had no idea of their specific role in achieving it.
In summary, people don’t know what your goals are, why they are important so they’re not committed to achieving it, they don’t know what they are specifically supposed to do about it and they aren’t held accountable to its success.
The real enemy of getting the right things done is the whirlwind of the urgent, more commonly referred to as your day job! The distractions of the fires that assault every manager and leader on a day to day basis.
I used to call this the bucking bronco.
I used to feel like the moment I walked in the door to my dealership I jumped atop a bucking bronco and prayed I could stay on for the duration of the day without getting bucked off.
The “urgent” things act on you, whereas the wildly important strategic goals are things that are important and you have to act on them.
Problem: If you ignore the urgent, they will kill you today but when you ignore the wildly important, they will kill you tomorrow. You have to do both.
The Covey group created a plan called 4 Disciplines of Execution that is based on the principle found in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Here are the 4 Disciplines followed by a fifth that is insinuated in their book but I’m going to establish it as a MUST 5th step.
One: FOCUS on the Wildly Important – the 80/20 Principle: This is about getting more with less. As humans, we are hardwired to be able to focus on 1 or 2 goals at one time. When you narrow your focus, it is easier to distinguish between what is truly important and what is simply the whirlwind.
Two: Act on Lead Measures – whatever strategy you are attempting to implement, your success will be dependent on two types of measures: lag and lead.
Lag measures tell you if you’ve accomplished your goal. [typical lag measures are revenue, profit, market share and customer satisfaction].
Lead measures are quite different. They measure the most high-impact behaviors your team will execute that will drive the success of the lag measures. A good lead measure has two basic characteristics: It is predictable and influenceable.
Three: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard – people play differently when they’re keeping score. This is the principle of engagement. The highest level of performance comes from those who are emotionally engaged and the best way to foster employee engagement is to keep score.
Four: Create a Cadence of Accountability – unless we hold each other accountable, the goal will slowly disintegrate into the whirlwind of the urgent. This accountability happens through regular weekly meetings of any and all teams or individuals that have a wildly important goal. The best cadence is weekly, 20-minute meetings where each person answers a simple question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do this week that will have the highest and biggest impact on the scoreboard?
This 5th step will take EXECUTION over the top: Effective Communication that is clear, simple and easy to understand. The messaging needs to help your employees understand the WHAT, WHY and HOW we can help them survive and thrive through the execution of the strategy and goals.
A strategy is relatively easy to come up with, executing on that strategy takes hard work, focus and effective communication skills and principle-centered leaders.