The Cure for Execution Indigestion

By Liz McBride

dateTue, Apr 28, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

It’s 11:00 am on Friday. I’m debriefing my colleagues on the great work Gautneau Alignment’s CEO has 3367105978_6848b37104_zdone to cure his team of KPI-tice when the CEO of Crazy NRG, a cloud software company, appears on Nicole’s screen. 

“Hello, doctors! Thank you for taking my call.”

“How can we help?” we say in unison.

“We’ve done our quarterly planning as planned and have our priorities in place, but, now that we’ve disbursed it’s as though nothing has changed. I believe my team is incredibly busy; yet, we’re not executing towards our goals. I even came up with a creative Main Thing for this quarter.” The CEO air quotes and says “Crazy deep in meetings.” He continues, “Let’s just say we’re not crazy deep in anything but work. How can I get my team focused?”

I speak up: “We’ll observe your meeting, talk to folks on your team and conduct a full Rhythm work-up and get back to you on Monday with a diagnosis.”

“Great, thank you!”

The screen goes dark and I ask, “Nicole, can you go back in time and stream their quarterly meeting?”

During a quick scan of the two-day quarterly meeting, I confirmed my hunch:

  1. The CEO is doing most of the talking. He asks for ideas about the Main Thing, then wastes no time sharing his clever idea. He also is the most vocal in crafting the quarterly priorities.
  2. The whopping 10 quarterly priorities don’t match up with the Main Thing.

Meanwhile, another doctor is diagnosing their Rhythm dashboards and finds:

  • There’s more energy or focus for the bottom (less important) company priorities.
  • Not all priorities have clear Red-Yellow-Green Criteria. The ones that do have dates as success rather than a distinct outcome to achieve.
  • There were hidden priorities, meaning some individual priorities weren’t linked to company priorities.
  • There are few Action Items to determine whether or not the priorities are realistic.

I call a few executive team members to check in on how they’ve cascaded the Main Thing to their respective teams and how they’re progressing towards their quarterly goals and hear: 

  • Daily huddles? Are you kidding? We’re lucky if we get our weekly meetings in. Monthly is too hard as we’re all over the map. It’s pretty much get together each quarter and then divide and conquer.”
  • “Our CEO is so passionate. I don’t have the heart to argue. ‘Crazy deep in meetings’ sounds clever, but doesn’t resonate with us. We’re all about cranking out products.”
  • “My team is doing the best they can, but I realize they have day jobs, too. The priorities don’t tell the whole picture on what we do. There’s a ton of other stuff we don’t track.”
  • “The company’s top 3 priorities aren’t ours. My folks are working on the bottom 5, plus a ton of other things you don’t see.”
  • “My success criteria would be to get it done by the end of the quarter. It’s all about what percentage is complete.”
  • “I got into the work and realized my priorities aren’t realistic. Too late now, I guess.”

On Monday, I call the CEO. “I have the diagnosis, but know that it’s curable. In essence, your quarterly plan is not execution-ready because your plan suffers from Execution Indigestion. The side effects are:

  • Mood swings from not being able to speak their minds for fear of going against the CEO’s ideas.
  • Dry eyes from staring at an insurmountable number of priorities.
  • Bloating from priorities not broken down into digestible bites.
  • Depression or anxiety from lack of clarity on how to status priorities, or by starting the quarter with all Reds due to success criteria based on % complete, rather than forecasting towards an outcome.

“It’s quite the pretty plan with a cute Main Thing and nice sounding priorities, but, that’s about it.

Here’s the 7-step prescription to shore up your plan and cure your Execution Indigestion:

  1. Don’t hog your plan - As the CEO who is calling most of the planning shots, take the back seat by letting someone else facilitate. Let your team speak their minds before you add some color.
  2. Give your plan some discipline - Maintaining a disciplined rhythm of execution is key. Get your weekly adjustment meetings back on track as a start.
  3. Clarify the end game - Make sure all of the Red-Yellow-Green criteria are outcome based, not an end date. In other words, success is not % completed, but forecasting whether or not you’ll reach the desired outcome. Every priority needs success criteria listed.
  4. Don’t choose your Main Thing for its good looks - You may have a cutesy, fun Main Thing, but, if it doesn’t provide everyone that one question to ask each day on whether or not they’re working on the most important thing, it’s not serving its purpose. To see if its beauty goes beyond skin deep, ensure your Priorities and Critical Numbers support the Main Thing.
  5. Don’t let your plan be an energy suck - Commit to 3-5 company priorities and 3-5 individual priorities per person.
  6. Let the energy rise to the top - The higher the priority, the more energy (group & individual priorities) are needed to support.
  7. Put your plan to the test - Every Individual Priority should have 3-5 Action Items or milestones to prove how you’re going to get the work done within the quarter.
  8. Call out the priority haters - Look for and call out “hidden” priorities that aren’t linked that may take away from accomplishing top priorities.

“We will, of course, help your team heal from this ailment. First thing’s first, let’s create a plan that Crazy NRG can embrace and be successful accomplishing.”

“Thank you, doctors. I’m starting to feel better already.”

I’m not really a doctor, but I play one in this blog. Do you have a case of Execution Indigestion?


Rhythm Systems Pre-Quarterly Planning Bundle

Liz McBride


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images