One of the critical, even primary, tasks of a leader is directing the energy and attention of your team. I don’t mean to discount your need to create a strategy, but it never works unless you execute it throughout the ranks of your organization. As a coach of fast-growing businesses, I often hear executives talk about moving fast with phrases like, “I got it. I got it, let’s move to the next thing.” They tout their organization as one that moves more quickly than others – sort of a high-speed rail of business development. The underlying truth is that in order to really “got it” you must slow down. That’s right, slow down to move faster.
Slow down and think more about implications, direction, investment of time, energy, resources, you know … strategy. And then you should move fast on what is determined. Don’t let urgency or a rush to check off items on a list mislead you to think that your company is moving fast. This is actually doing fast, but often doing the wrong things. Let’s examine some ways to answer the question, “Have you really got it?” when it comes to strategy implementation.
According to Daniel Goldman, author of The Hidden Driver of Excellence (HarperCollins 2013), leaders must first learn to focus their own attention. Goldman is co-director of the Consortium of Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University and creator of the term Emotional Intelligence.
As behavioral science is beginning to confirm, the best leaders learn to triangulate on awareness through the appropriate combination of inward focus (emotional intelligence), focus on others (emotional intelligence), and outward focus (strategy, innovation, and management intelligence). When triangulating awareness with the combination of all three, you become a great leader with this powerful lens. You also gain in three ways:
• Improved gut feel or intuition from inward focus and self-awareness. If you are used to giving input rather than receiving, you will likely find this a challenge.
• Better leadership tendencies (ones that people want to follow) accompany a focus on others. You can build this into your executive team rhythm by creating a structure where everyone has a chance to share.
• Improved listening and questioning skills, and a more visionary sense of business decisions, are linked to an outward focus. Included are improved ability to develop strategy, innovate, and manage people and organizations.
Think of plan execution as a set of linked activities that carry out the critical changes and development efforts you worked hard to create in planning meetings. Since leaders are trained more in planning than they are in execution, they tend to be more comfortable with strategy creation rather than implementation. Let's take a moment to look at the next step - turning planning into doing.
The most successful strategic outcomes are best achieved when the "rank and file" is also part of the planning and formulation process. Leadership experts would agree on the criticality of "buy-in", and that the greater the overlap between doers and planners, the more success you will have. This supports our Rhythm Systems approach of cascading the planning and execution throughout your organization.
If you want to ensure success, you must take execution into account while formulating your 3-5 year and annual plans. In other words, execution is not an afterthought. All execution decisions cannot be taken at once. However, the formulation and execution overlap is critical to carrying out your plans. We teach clients to include both in their annual planning process with a simple 4-quarter flyover tool.
In addition to being played out over longer periods of time, strategy implementation always involves more people than does strategy formulation. That presents additional challenges for fast moving organizations, challenges that are exacerbated by larger numbers of employees. In other words, it becomes more of a problem as you experience growth. Communication down the organization or across functions becomes a growing challenge. Here are four steps to make the execution process as smooth and successful as possible:
1. Develop a logical model that works for you and your company.
Consider your current initiatives and strategies. Are they connected and aligned, or somewhat disjointed? Your people need a framework for understanding how things fit together. We recommend the one-page strategic plan.
2. Keep the overlap between strategy and execution at the forefront of planning meetings.
Make note of how you can strengthen the overlap between strategy and execution. We use Rhythm® software for the Rockefeller Habits to ensure the success of this process for clients. If you aren’t a Rhythm user, consider a mind-map or spreadsheet to keep up with this process.
3. Foster information sharing, coordination and clear accountability.
Do you have an integrated method for smooth information sharing, coordination and accountability? Our Red-Yellow-Green success criteria approach, plus visible dashboards, creates an environment that nurtures accountability. Add to it the “comment stream” imbedded in the software and your team will be sharing information and coordinating effort. Clear accountability is natural for day-to-day activities, but remember, we’re talking about execution on priorities over and above your day job.
4. Develop a culture that supports a robust execution process.
Move your meeting and accountability discussions away from status and on to solutions. Don’t tolerate excuses, which are often made under the guise of explanation. Instead, require ownership and acceptance of mistakes with a fast look toward correction. When was the last time you publicly admitted a mistake (with no excuse) and then turned toward solution? Remember, you set the tone for accountability within your span of leadership.
As a leader, you must drive the strategy and execution process. All too often, plans fade when they reach the middle manager or front line level. Confront this issue head on by integrating these 4 Strategy Actions Steps - do this and you are on your way to developing a culture of successful strategy execution. Now you really “got it”!