By AMA Staff
Any organization can craft an impressive strategic plan. Sadly, the hard part is actually accomplishing something. A survey conducted by OnPoint Consulting found that almost half of those surveyed believe there is a gap between their organization's ability to develop a vision and strategy and its ability to execute that strategy. And even more—64%—lack the confidence that the gap can be closed.
OnPoint’s president, Richard Lepsinger, insists that companies can make a conscious effort to close the execution gap. In his new book, coauthored with Dr. Gary Yukl, Flexible Leadership: Creating Value by Balancing Multiple Challenges and Choices (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint), he writes: "Creating a culture of execution begins with the knowledge that developing plans and strategic initiatives is just the starting point. It also requires adopting the mindset that a highly skilled and engaged work force—while important—will not ensure effective execution.”
He continues, "Many leaders have a blind spot in this area. Either they believe that their job is setting the direction, and execution is the responsibility of lower-level managers, or they assume that if they clearly communicate an exciting vision of the future to an engaged work force, everything else will fall into place."
The authors offer the following strategies for creating a "get it done" culture:
- Recognize that execution starts with a plan. "A solid plan facilitates the organization and coordination of related work activities, prevents operational delays and bottlenecks in work processes, helps people avoid duplication of effort, and helps employees set priorities and meet deadlines. It also helps you prepare for potential problems before they happen so that one snag in the system won’t throw everyone completely off course. Keep in mind that the most useful plans are flexible starting points that can be easily changed to address new needs or challenges as you encounter them."
- Align and coordinate plans across the organization. A common snafu at many organizations is that the head of one department will implement a new initiative without considering how it will affect the overall company or specific departments. When a New York-based mutual insurance and financial services company realized it wasn't going to meet its financial goals, division heads focused on cutting expenses in their individual departments. Unfortunately, they did not develop operational plans that were compatible across the organization or that helped coordinate the day-to-day activities required to achieve overall business objectives. In fact, these individual cuts made it difficult to maintain support and service to internal customers.
"When the CEO became aware of the problem, he worked with his executive team to clarify cross-organizational initiatives that were priorities for the entire company," says Lepsinger. "Then each divisional leader identified the specific cost reduction targets for his or her division that would support the achievement of the corporate objectives and initiatives while not inhibiting the ability of other departments to achieve their goals."
- Clarify, clarify, clarify. It's often difficult to get things done because people don't understand their role, responsibilities, or what exactly is expected of them. Managers may mistakenly assume that employees understand what needs to be done. Or they may fear they might insult an employee's intelligence by stating what seems obvious to them. Finally, some leaders may simply believe they are too busy to spell things out, not realizing the possible consequences of failing to do so.
- Communicate expectations. Goals help everyone focus on important activities and responsibilities and encourage people to work more efficiently. Goals facilitate constructive performance feedback by ensuring that managers and direct reports or team members have a shared picture of expected outcomes. Performance improves because specific objectives guide effort toward the most productive activities, and challenging objectives tend to energize a higher level of effort. "Goals should be set even for those things that can't be easily measured," asserts Lepsinger. “But even thought some goals may be difficult to quantify, all goals can be verified.”
- Don't micromanage your entrepreneurial-minded employees (but do monitor them). The employees who take individual initiative and do an effective job without much direction from you are the gems that make your company special. But when you empower employees in this way, monitoring becomes even more important. “When done right, monitoring does not have to feel like micromanaging, says Lepsinger. “Use it as an opportunity to recognize effective behavior, involve your employees in developing meaningful measures of performance, and get their feedback in determining the timing of periodic follow-up meetings. Then, your efforts will be valued by everyone involved."
- Encourage employees to openly share bad news. Employees may be hesitant to inform you if there is a problem, mistake, or delay because they fear your reaction or think it will make them look incompetent. Even an employee who is not responsible for a problem may be reluctant to report it if he or she is concerned about being on the receiving end of an angry outburst. Be careful about how you react to information concerning problems. (In other words, “Don’t shoot the messenger!).
- Balance careful analysis with decisive action. Effective leaders move quickly to deal with a threat or problem. Nevertheless, they know they must make an accurate diagnosis of the problem and identify relevant remedies before taking action. Otherwise, they may end up implementing ineffective solutions or solving the wrong problem—both of which can make things worse instead of better.
- Facilitate informal interaction among employees. Your employees' informal relationships are a vital component in getting things done. The ability to connect with a colleague "in the moment" when you have a problem or require new information is essential for effective execution. These interactions are especially challenging in today's global business environment, where colleagues may be in different locations, connected only electronically.
- Use your performance management system as a business tool. This system is one of the most important tools leaders have to ensure effective execution. It ensures goals are aligned across levels and work units, helps people know what they must do and how to do it, and allows leaders to monitor progress. "If you view performance management solely as an end-of-the-year review to satisfy HR requirements, it isn't going to help you get things done more efficiently," says Lepsinger. But when used effectively, a performance management system provides early warning when things veer off course and allows time to get people back on track.”
"When you put these elements in place at your organization, you'll see a general improvement in individual, team, and overall organizational ability to execute plans and initiatives," says Lepsinger. “Your employees will become focused on being more efficient, retaining customers, responding and acting on customer feedback, and attaining their goals." He concludes, “Your company really can keep its promises—but first you must create a culture of execution.”
For more information, please visit https://www.onpointconsultingllc.com/
About The Author
American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.