Do you know how to juggle? Can you juggle three objects? Five? How about with a partner? And what does this have to do with execution?
Juggling itself is not a very complex activity, until you start juggling more objects or attempt to juggle with a partner! It does however, provide a good example of how you can improve your company’s ability to execute.
Your business is somewhat of a juggling act, the more balls, pins, hats, fire sticks, and people you try to add, the more complex it gets. The more initiatives, projects, people, and customers you add to your business the more complex it becomes. So how do you improve your ability to execute your business strategies or initiatives as the business itself becomes more complex?
Through our research on successful growing companies and years of experience improving company’s abilities to execute, we’ve learned that successful companies have a greater ability to execute their strategies and initiatives due to three basis practices: They have greater focus, alignment and discipline (FAD) than their counterparts.
Focus: the ability to prioritize and narrow the list of projects or opportunities which will provide improved value for the business. Businesses with greater focus, be it projects, customers, products, markets etc. are more successful
Alignment: the ability to obtain agreement and consensus from a team specifically on what the team will do and act.
Discipline: keeping focused and aligned on the goals or priorities
Focusing on a limited number of initiatives, while limiting distractions from the many other opportunities that present themselves, allows companies to complete initiatives better and more quickly. Often companies create too many initiatives to complete which then fragments the resources that are being used to accomplish these initiatives. There is actually empirical evidence in the product development world that product development teams complete three projects more quickly and with better results by completing one project at a time rather than attempting to complete all three at once. This would be like trying to learn to juggle three different objects at the same time rather than perfecting one object before moving on to another.
How often in your company do you attempt to accomplish too many initiatives at once while completing none on time or as well as expected? Many companies start the New Year with grandiose visions of growth through multifaceted initiatives then by the end of the second quarter it becomes apparent that ‘things didn’t go as planned” and the company must re-evaluate or juggle initiatives. Few initiatives are completed at this point.
We worked with one company that had nearly fourteen strategic initiatives for the year. Each initiative also had five or six supporting tactical initiatives which drove the total initiative count to over seventy! The company was typical of many entrepreneurial organizations in that they started the year off with great enthusiasm but became ‘distracted’ with running the business and other ‘opportunities’ that came along and really didn’t complete many of the initiatives. The CEO believed he needed better strategies when in fact he just needed fewer initiatives. We worked with their leadership team to develop and define four strategic initiatives and only two to three tactical initiatives, which could be accomplished with their existing resources. By design, these initiatives were to be completed before the end of the year knowing that once these were done we could add others – but not until then! The company has successfully completed many of these current initiatives simply because they were focused on completing a few compared to being stretched across many.
How focused is your business? Do you have a limited number of initiatives or too many? Are the initiatives specifically defined? Are you trying to juggle too many objects at once? If you asked each member of your leadership team to list the top five initiatives for the company, would your responses be unanimous? If you don’t receive unanimous responses, what is your team working on?
Providing focus has allowed companies to complete more initiatives in a shorter period of time and therefore beat the competition and grow. Focus improves a company’s ability to execute.
Complimenting the focus of the business is the alignment of the strategies, resources and incentives. Let’s assume that you have a limited number of initiatives. Are your resources (people, equipment, technology) aligned to accomplish them? One way to align your leadership team on your business strategies is to define how your company competes. Michael Treacy wrote a book years ago which defined three basic strategies to complete: Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership and Operational Excellence. Has your leadership team defined the company’s winning strategy by becoming more intimate with customers, introducing differentiated products or becoming easier to do business with? Without this strategic alignment, you cannot execute effectively.
Connected to the alignment in strategy is the alignment of resources. Is it explicitly understood what each member of the leadership team is expected to complete and when? Are they competing for similar resources? Too often we find that the leadership team has not defined who is going to accomplish what, when and with which resources. Without explicit goals and aligned resources, you cannot execute.
Linking incentives to the strategies and resources is another proven way to improve execution. This means that once goals are set, there is a defined and tangible reward system in place so that each team member can ‘touch’ what he or she will receive if and when they accomplish their goals. Too often these incentive systems are ‘discretionary’ which really fails to motivate and create an incentive for individuals to perform.
As you think about your company, is your team really aligned on what needs to be accomplished this year? Do you have the necessary resources to accomplish your goals? Are the incentives quantitatively defined for all team members? Companies with these traits have proven to execute better than their peers and grow more efficiently. Unfortunately, many CEOs think they are aligned when in fact they really aren’t.
Discipline. Staying the course. Keeping on track. Perseverance. How often do we establish great strategies and goals only to become ‘distracted’ with other opportunities, customer emergencies, or side projects? Discipline in keeping focused and aligned has proven to improve ones ability to execute. Companies must be disciplined to not dramatically change strategies throughout the year or identify ‘another’ great opportunity and abandon the one you developed earlier. If you defined five great strategies to grow the business, do not constantly change them. You undoubtedly will not complete many of them and your ability to execute will decrease.
Unfortunately, the person behind driving discipline through the organization is usually the President or CEO, who as the entrepreneur, has typically the more creative, imaginative or right brained profile which does not conduce itself to discipline. For organizations with this characteristic, someone with strong operations experience is needed to keep the company focused and drive the strategies home. Is your company challenged with discipline? Do you have the initiative of the quarter or year which really is really never institutionalized? What, or who, is driving this challenge?
Improving a company’s ability to execute is not simple but it does come down to some research proven and fundamental behaviors. The entire company needs to be focused on a select set of core objectives, the leadership team and resources need to be aligned to these goals and there must be discipline within the organization to stay the course. One great way to measure your ability to execute is to identify what percent of the initiatives you started last year were actually completed. Your ‘business efficiency’ is somewhat connected to this number.Back to Recent News