Are You Headed for a Crash Landing?

By Barry Pruitt

Are You Headed for a Crash Landing?

I’ve seen great strategies suffer crash landings when team execution failed. Determining how and understanding why this happens is key to improvement in business performance and survival for entrepreneurs and CEOs.  

I’ve worked with leaders in 13 countries for over 20 years and want to share insights that those leaders have taught me – from what they did well, and what they did poorly.

For clarity, I’ll focus on three headings related to strategic planning, and the extent to which they affect company success. I’ve grouped my observations in the following three headings which are familiar to fans of the book Rhythm THINK Realistically, PLAN Successfully, DO AccountablyLet me explain further:

1. THINK Realistically

Mike Tyson once said, “You know, there were a lot of people who got in the ring with a strategy of how they were going to beat me—and then I hit them.” You should ask yourself if your strategic plan is realistic in conception? I’ve worked with companies from Burma to Boston and Sydney to Syracuse and this is consistent – when you plan more than five priorities for your company or department in a single quarter, you aren’t being realistic. Of course there is a rare 1-2% exception, but those are bad odds and not a safe business gamble.

Unrealistic strategic plans will fail – they always do. Build your plan on realistic, well understood (and agreed upon) initiatives at the senior level, then be meticulous in #2 below, planning how the work will be executed. In today’s environment, most companies have cut out all the excess (read that as fat). So, it’s not uncommon to have a team member playing two roles. But be realistic, you can’t count them as 100% engaged for each position. In a recent planning session I had the chance to map this with a client. They had a five-person senior team with two members covering two positions each. It was eye opening to help them think realistically: two people working their senior position 50% of the time is equivalent to one person total. Even after this math, the team didn’t get it, they saw this as the equivalent of four total people. I agreed, but asked if they realized that dropping from the full time equivalent of five people to four people was a 20% reduction? Bam – there was the reality, and it hurt. You can’t expect 100% output from 80% resource, and certainly not for any extended period. After all, how many times in one day can you come in early or skip lunch? 

2. PLAN Successfully

My first question for you is, do you have a formal planning process and, if yes, how deep within your organization does it go? Within each company that I coach, the leaders are either looking for a process for planning, or wish to improve their current process. It’s encouraging when I discover that there is a process in place, but my experience is that only half of businesses actually have one, and less than 10% of those are effective at their process. To succeed you’ll need not only a process, you’ll need a process that’s repeatable. In addition, you’ll need a plan B for any major initiatives – one that can be executed in the event your main plan isn’t working and can’t be revived. Utilizing any process (even a bad one) will place you ahead of much of your competition because formalized operational planning is a critical discipline to move strategy to execution. By utilizing a formal process, you can consistently connect your BHAG to your 3-5 year plans, to winning moves and key thrusts, to annual plans, to quarterly plans and … finally, execution.

When I see clients fall short in this discipline, I see priorities and teams competing for resources simultaneously – which generally creates chaos, and at best, a lack of progress.

3. DO Accountably

A company that isn’t publicly and regularly measuring their progress toward strategy or plan is generally a company headed toward disaster. When utilizing the methodology outlined in the book Rhythm as a blueprint, you’ll be measuring weekly or more often. This approach ensures regular communication by all the right parties on what matters most. You’ll also discover that this tends to automatically drive conversations down the ranks of your organization.

I spent years working with teams before Rhythm® was developed and consistently saw the negative effect of lower ranking team members not knowing the strategy or the quarter plan. And from comments heard and examples seen, this directly affected morale and the level of trust in senior leaders. It also left money on the table in terms of output lost.

My lesson for you is to develop a straightforward understanding of your company/department strategy. Develop a communication plan with a consistent, concise message for your team, and share the message often. Once is not enough and neither is once per week. Your plan should incorporate this message into the DNA of your team conversations and actions so your team knows, understands, and feels accountable for company strategy. Communicate clear links for each team member’s individual effort to the strategy. Continue to look for ways to articulate why they, and aligned action, are valuable to your company. 

It’s rare that I see companies with a strong metric, measurement, and accountability ethic – and even more rare that it gets pushed cascade-like into the company ranks. Sadly, because of this, I see some organizations with good intent, and great effort, fail because they haven’t shared where they are going with the members that could help them get there. It sounds like, “I told them at the beginning of the quarter,” “they should know because we flew them in for the planning meeting,” or “their manager should have told them.” It sounds like the previous examples and it always leads to a crash landing. The lesson? Good intent is never enough for a great landing.

The implementation of strategy is constantly an issue for entrepreneurs and their leadership teams. First, check whether your strategy is realistic, next cover the basics of communicating and driving the plan down to the ranks, and finally dashboard the effectiveness of your efforts publicly, honestly, and weekly. Following this approach will lead you and your company to a safe landing!

Please share your comments on safe (or crash) landings below. Let’s all grow our business in 2014!


Executive Summary from Patrick Thean's book Rhythm










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