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Execution is about LIVING the plan, not communicating it

Posted by on February 8, 2016 11:49 am
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Too often, senior leaders start the year with a big town hall meeting to ‘present’ the organization’s strategic plan, if they share it at all.  They give a state of the union address and summarize the high level strategies and objectives. When the meeting is finished, executives feel good that they have shared the plan and everyone is now accountable for executing and attaining success. It sounds great, but it isn’t reality.

The truth is that the vast majority of employees leave those meetings more confused than when they arrived. The strategies are at such a high level that employees don’t know what they do to contribute, so many, while appreciative of the break from their day jobs, don’t leave the meeting engaged in driving the plan.

But what if we could change that? What if we could take those high level strategies and objectives and help people see how their roles contribute every day?  What if we could, in our regular interactions with employees, reinforce how they make a difference? That, my friends, is how we drive execution.

As an executive, I used to love the start of a new year. My favourite week to work was the one between Christmas and New Year’s as it gave me a lot of time to reflect and get ready for what was ahead. I would invest two days on setting the course for my team and determining how to drive execution of our strategic plan and key objectives. I know, it seems like a lot of time, but I have learned that investing the time up front makes life easier in the long run.

So…what did I do for those two days? It’s simple. I put myself in the shoes of my direct reports and figured out how their work contributed to the success of the plan, particularly those whose roles were further removed from the high level objectives being targeted.

An example: let’s say a company wanted to strategically improve its ability to retain and build existing customer relationships. They want to measure progress by showing a 10% improvement in their annual customer satisfaction scores year over year.

Of course we can see how those two elements link.  The question is, even if we communicate this to our teams, do they know what to do to get the 10% improvement? The answer is, not likely; particularly if they work in a function that is removed from customer service.

What if I’m the HR Leader? Without more conversation, it is easy for folks in indirect roles like this to disengage; customer service is someone else’s issue in the organization, not mine. If we want to achieve aggressive strategic plans, we need everyone in our organization working towards key objectives.

For some it is easy to see how they can impact the metric (ex. front line customer service staff), but for others, they need the link established for them. Let’s look at the HR Leader. By reducing hire times, and hiring for the right skills, the HR Leader can contribute to the customer service goal. Ongoing conversations help develop the direct link between what we are asking the leader to accomplish and the strategic plans for the organization.

Why do these conversations drive execution?

  • People want to work on things that matter.  If employees understand how the work they do contributes to the overall objective, they are more likely to engage and commit to reaching that result.
  • Objectives are measurable. Because we can measure progress, we can monitor progress. We can recognize strong performance and jump in quickly if things go off track.
  • Scope creep is minimized. Through the year, it is inevitable that employees will be asked to take on new projects.  Ongoing dialogue ensures a balance between strategic objectives and “day job” responsibilities.
  • Performance management becomes easier. Setting clear expectations at the beginning of the year means that we get commitment on the work to be done and we can better monitor progress throughout the year. We provide appropriate feedback early, leading to better communication and fewer surprises when it comes to coaching and year end reviews.

If you really want to get results, invest a bit of time in having regular conversations with your staff that makes the strategic plan real to them. I guarantee you the investment will pay off in spades and you will be that much closer to achieving your strategic plan.

 

Topics: Business Strategy (Navigate), Organizational Activation (Activate)

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