written by Mick Ukleja

The Execution Of A Leader

Execution-of-PlanI know! It sounds like the title of a documentary on a third-world rouge dictator who’s been overthrown.  However, it’s much closer to home.

“70% of strategic failures come from poor execution of leadership…it’s rarely for lack of smarts or vision” – Ram Charan

It’s one thing to develop a strategy but quite another to execute the same.  Strategy is discussed on a regular basis in management classes.  Yet I dare say that if you have an MBA or a degree in organizational change, it is a fair bet you’ve never had a course in execution.  At first glance poor strategy becomes the villain.  A good strategy is the sine qua non—without which you have nothing.  But it doesn’t end there.

Beware of false assumptions:

Strategy to Execution is not a linear process anymore than Theory is to Practice. Theory informs practice and practice clarifies and refines our theory. It’s the same with strategy and execution. Strategy informs execution and execution clarifies and refines our strategy. They are inseparable. The incorrect assumption is that strategy is about planning and execution is about action. That might fit in the classroom, but not in the real world.

Strategy is not the problem anymore than execution is the solution. By itself, execution is dangerous. Strategy informs execution.

So what’s the problem? For starters our workspace and life space is cluttered. The amount of activity that surrounds us screams for our attention.  It’s like a Tornado, which packs an enormous amount of energy and vocational debris.  It’s easy to lose your way and run for cover.

Trying harder when results disappoint is usually the first response. However, trying harder when you are already working hard usually creates more discouragement than better results. A good exercise would be to write down why more effort, more time and more resources would make a difference.

On the other hand, strategy without execution is like a life without proper oxygen. It will grow faint, collapse and eventually expire. The death of a strategy is not like a stellar death with the horrific brilliance of a supernova destroying everything in its path, while capturing the attention of a large portion of the universe. The death of strategic initiatives sort of sputter to the ground after a slow decent that’s hardly even noticeable.  The daily tornado got our attention, not the slow decaying strategy.

Smart, intelligent, and motivated people are not the cause.  The cause is BUSINESS.  Sometimes it’s simply too many priorities and strategic initiatives.

They become part of the tornado that causes strategic amnesia.

Good people no longer see clearly the goal, let alone possess strategic consensus.

When workers are asked to name their organization’s top goals 15% are able to answer the question.  Only 9% know what to do about the goals.  A paltry 6% feel a high commitment to the strategic goals.  It’s pretty frightening to think that for every 100 people working, 15 know the prioritized direction of the organization, and just 6 of the 100 people have a level of commitment to that direction.

Understanding an organization’s strategic direction and knowing how an individual is connected to and involved in the execution of those initiatives is a key in retaining your workforce – especially the Millennial generation that is now on your payroll .

Without this there is a loss of vitality at work.  Good people stay busy, but not energized, and eventually leave.  This often leads to the blame game if not properly diagnosed.  The team blames the strategy, the leader blames the team, and some team members resent the leader, while others wallow in guilt for lack of accomplishment.

The solution is to clearly communicate the strategy and make sure it’s a filter for decision making. Execution is a matter of making sure that our daily decisions and actions are adding up. Done right, execution clarifies and refines our strategic initiatives.

Don’t be busy. Be strategic. That turns activity into execution.

What process do you teach and use to make sure strategy and execution are in sync?

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05.19.2016

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