In my experience as a global business consultant and former VP of Operations, I’ve yet to find a business that failed solely due to a poor strategy; however, I’ve seen many die a slow (and sometimes sudden) death due to poor execution. Execution is an often overlooked secret to success – it isn’t glamorous or exciting to discuss (at least not in comparison with the latest fads); however, it is the bedrock essential to delivering bottom line business results.
Even though I typically am called into clients to help elevate business performance derived through topics such as supply chain and operations management, my technical expertise on those topics rarely if ever relate to why the preponderance of my business is repeat business; instead, they call me back because I partner with them to ensure results occur. I’ve often termed this “making it happen” – and recently updated it to “eagle eye execution”.
The following strategies are of upmost importance when it comes to execution: 1) Leadership & Culture. 2) Focus. 3) Exemplars 4) Follow-up
- Leadership & Culture: Have you ever seen a successful company with weak leaders? Doubtful. I haven’t. Undoubtedly, solid execution requires exceptional leadership – no exceptions.
What does this entail? Leaders must start by conveying where the company is headed (vision), why it’s of importance, and how the employee adds value and contributes to the vision. Additionally, collaborative goals must be established, performance management systems should be in place, immediate feedback (both positive & constructive) is a must, training, development & career paths should be a natural part of the discussion………and the list goes on. Leaders must ignore the temptation to focus on inputs (# of hours worked, tasks and activities); instead focus on results. Help employees develop plans, gain resources and overcome roadblocks to achieving the results. Celebrate success.
Culture shouldn’t be an afterthought unless you’d prefer failure. What set of beliefs govern behavior? What does your culture support? Does your culture appreciate collaboration or individualism? For example, are you compensated and rewarded for team contributions or individual contributions even if at the expense of the team? Do leaders say one thing and do another? Don’t bother executing until your leadership and culture are in sync with your goals.
- Focus: It’s amazing what focus alone can accomplish. For example, a few of my clients have suffered for years with nagging problems. Of course, they tried many alternatives to resolve the issue and were frustrated. After we were able to resolve the problem working together, they often said that although they thought my technical skills would help to resolve the problem, it had little to do with it. Instead, focus was the secret weapon.
Once focus is placed on a select few root causes, seemingly insurmountable roadblocks disappear. The interesting thing about this is that it is as simple as it sounds but it is not as easy to implement as it sounds. Why? Designing and improving processes and leveraging systems and technology requires focus; however, aligning people takes an exaggerated focus. How do we align disparate functions and people with conflicting goals and managers with a common focus? Go back to point #1!
- Exemplars: Another secret ingredient to execution success is to identify exemplars. Who are the influence leaders in the organization? Who sets an example that others will follow? They’ll come from some seemingly strange places – certainly not in positional power oftentimes. Take a step back and find them – once you watch and observe, you’ll wonder how you missed it before.
Bring the exemplars into the fold. Ask them to trial the new program or process. Incorporate their feedback. Ask for their support. Empower them. Soon the rest will follow.
- Follow-up: I’m fondly known as a pit terrier when it comes to follow-up. We can attribute or blame this on my mom! However, it is a key reason for my success; I cannot count the times I’ve succeeded through determination alone. If you’re interested in execution success, follow-up isn’t an option.
A few tips from the pit terrier gene pool: 1) Start with a solid plan. 2) Ruthlessly identify priorities. 3) Ask questions about the priorities. 4) Listen to the answers (sounds obvious but isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds). 5) Do not shy away from roadblocks and messy issues. 6) Continually improve your communication & presentation style as it’s essential in handling the messy issues. 7) Be upfront and trustworthy. 8) Track metrics but only focus on noteworthy ones. 10) Remain vigilant.
Execution is essential in today’s new normal business environment. Improving business performance can be a constant struggle. Thus, what could be more important than being known as a rare person or company who consistently delivers results in a collaborative and engaging manner?