EXECUTION - Where Strategy Transforms Into Results
Published on January 3, 2017
History has a special place for strategic business catastrophes. A trip down Memory Lane brings names like Compaq, The Apple Lisa and TED to mind. According to Harvard Business Review, in a survey of over 400 global CEOs prioritizing their top 80 challenges, execution excellence was the number one obstacle, above top-line growth. Sources like Wharton and The Economist Intelligence Unit, support similar conclusions that only 47% to 63% of the objectives of any strategy are achieved. The truth is that execution is a proverbial piñata of failure. There are endless books, papers and articles on the subject of strategy, but much less on the discussion of execution. The following will serve to bring the actions and proficiencies of the Four E Model full-circle. After exploring the roles of engagement, education and empowerment in getting things done, one could conclude that the only thing left is to just do it. Not really! Although there is heightened awareness in the business world about how skipping these critical steps makes success unlikely, execution has three key mechanisms that are commonly overlooked. The first is to TRACK PREDICTIVE BEHAVIOR. Surveys show that, in practice, less than 15% of companies actually track strategic implementation. My conclusion is, since managers don’t know what to track, they don’t. In the previous article on empowerment I describe activities called critical measures that are actions directly associated with and predictive of achieving the goal. Tracking these behaviors supports the adage “What gets measured, gets done”. As critical measures are benchmarked, the question becomes, how are they best communicated? With people being the vital ingredient to execution, any tracking method should take into account the way we humans process information. With a majority of people learning through seeing, good tracking methods have a strong visual appeal and the ability to identify progress instantly. A graphic scoreboard that charts progress on a time continuum generally hits the mark. Technology has modernized tracking from paper charts pinned on the bulletin board to accessibility at your fingertips. Apps like Goalscape, Strides, GoalEnforcer, FrankinCovey and most CRM programs like SalesForce.com feature mobile and desktop tracking dashboards. Depending on how deep you want to go, some applications can integrate social media aspects. ZeeZor, a new tech solutions company in the salon/spa industry, offers a platform where business owners and managers have access to real-time productivity. Within seconds of a significant achievement or transaction, they can post a congratulatory inspiration to their team members. With built-in scoreboards, ZeeZor is finding that, rather than only checking social media on breaks, staff is actually accessing their productivity on internal networks multiple times daily. So, what should a typical scoreboard look like? Let’s look at the commercial real estate example in the last article. We wormed down to confirm that 500 target mailings and calls within the fiscal year was the critical measure to achieve the top line goal of 20 signed leases. Distributing that over 52 weeks and factoring 2 weeks of vacation time, 10 target mailings and calls becomes the critical measure every week. For predictive behaviors that can have wide variations, adding a chart that shows the cumulative progress is wise. Determining the most impactful measurement time period is an important exercise. A good rule is to make the tracking period the smallest time window that will show progression of the critical measures. That said, I have not seen an effective scoreboard for a period longer that two-weeks. Here’s how our lease example would look in a scoreboard format: In this example (generated with Franklin Covey Scoreboard Plus), we can see that the last weekly scoreboard showed a result of 7 against a goal of 10 and a cumulative result of 32 against a goal of 50. We can actually see a widening gap trend starting to develop in the cumulative scoreboard, signaling the need for redirection and an all-hands-on-deck conversation. A graphic representation of where an individual and/or team is against an objective is not only vital in knowing progress, it provides the opportunity to make the process fun, motivating and consistent. Depending on a company’s level of priority for goal attainment, scoreboarding can also serve to support the developmental and performance management functions of HR. The data needed to build these scoreboards provides results against a standard of performance that become valuable in the review process. Bonus programs should be wrapped around critical measures, keeping company’s goals in constant focus. When the ultimate level of intellectual, physical and fiscal capital is invested in a strategy, the implementation of a scoreboard is fundamental. As suggested earlier, even with a visual representation of progress, not all people process information through seeing or graphic visualization. In the 1990’s I was on the sidelines of several arguments around how higher learning favors those who best absorb through hearing or are auditory processors (a conclusion supported by the “lecture” format of most courses). While we haven’t arrived at the Mr. Keating, Carpe Diem level of connection, conscientious educators have taken heed and now diversify their content delivery to increase comprehension. This moves us to the second execution proficiency, COMMUNICATE AND ADJUST. A discussion about the scoreboard is part of this. A verbal review of the information and talking through results not only appeals to auditory learners, it creates accountability, it identifies what did and didn’t work and from that, we can make corrections in the game plan. This discussion should be no less frequent than the period the scoreboard tracks and can be daily, in some cases. Using a football analogy, before a play is run on the field, there usually is a huddle. For companies and teams that are spread out, a daily or weekly huddle call can hit the mark. For location based businesses, a shift or daily huddle can work best. Whatever you call it, everyone must participate and contribute. A simple script for a huddle call might be: “Good morning everyone. We’re going to review our progress so please share where you are on the scoreboard, what you did to achieve or exceed target at this point and if you’re off target, what you plan to do differently.” It’s fast, simple and specific. There are no discussions about why an individual couldn’t do what was expected, just the facts. No excuses. At this point, the team leader records the information and uses it to unpack and start the next huddle call. That dialog might be: “Joe, you mentioned on our last huddle call that you would contact three additional leads each day to bridge your target gap. How did that go?” Again, while this is an open forum it is not a brainstorming or training session. Results and actions are the cadence. So, what about the adjustment piece? That’s the appropriate action when commonality is observed in the challenges the team faces or results they get. It’s a fine-tuning of the critical measures. A good example of a quality adjustment in the restaurant world would be improving the description of an item on the menu based on low orders and feedback from customers. No strategy can be perfect especially if it blazes new trails. Adjustment is a natural bi-product of good communication about what worked and didn’t. Transversely, the road to disaster is best walked with blinders on. The last and final stepping stone to turning plans into reality is to RECOGNIZE EXCELLENCE. This is the easiest and most-missed opportunity for repeating and duplicating success. Bonuses certainly motivate a large segment of people in self-driven roles, however, there are many who aren’t in it for the money. Some see work as the means to an end of getting what’s important in their lives. On the other end of the spectrum there are cheerleaders who never question anything and only dream of wearing the company ring. Work for them might just be there only life. The truth is there are numerous driver types between these examples and, depending on the culture of the organization, all are extremely important to gaining balance and results. While it’s powerful to have a strong culture, too many like-minded individuals can move decision making and ultimately achievement in a negative direction. The most effective aspiration is to consistently recognize what excellent performance looks like on an ongoing basis and in a timely manner. Let’s break that down. Recognition is not typically a financial reward in this reference, mostly an acknowledgment of attainment. Consistency is important to gain the belief that when I demonstrate the behavior or clear a hurdle, I will be rewarded similarly. Every-time, every-person is the best practice. If everyone is consistently over the benchmark goal, some consideration should be given to increasing it. Overall top performers can and should be recognized individually. Consistent recognition, in a timely manner, keeps all victories relevant and impactful. When people succeed, they are most driven to duplicate that success while still experiencing a sense of achievement. So, if you have a weekly huddle and you’re on vacation and don’t want to lose momentum, you’d be best advised to schedule and appoint a stand-in facilitator in your absence. Otherwise, you’ll miss a week of recognizing performance, as well as, lessen execution impact. Recognizing excellence becomes an easy way to acknowledge those who put the focused effort behind the most important things. In our journey through these five articles we’ve looked at how to get the right people involved, the importance of imparting successful competencies, how to secure commitment and how to keep everyone focused on the most important activities. Whether you are at the helm of a billion dollar multi-national or a local business owner, getting things done presents special challenges. The Four E’s are lessons and learnings from a life in leadership while making every mistake known to man and woman. Being blessed with great mentors and staff, I was allowed the opportunity to explore new directions but fail at the same time. Committing to execution effectiveness lessens failure and illuminates the path to legendary results.