February 15, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” —Sun Tsu, Ancient Chinese Military strategist
I know. You don’t have to tell me. You’re inspired. You just got a great idea for a new business or product. Or maybe you just had a great meeting or strategic planning session and you can’t wait to implement the new ideas and strategies that emerged. Or maybe you just made your resolution for the New Year.
Whatever the case, there is a spike in your enthusiasm and excitement in the beginning. You are excited to get to the action, to see the results, to impact change, and to make improvements. But before long, you start to lose momentum to execute on your Big Audacious Hairy Goals. You fail to follow through. Your great ideas begin to melt and run down your arm like a scoop of ice cream in the middle of July.
In all the examples above the problem is not the idea, the plan, the goal or the strategy. The problem is the people and their behaviors that either drive or impede progress on the idea. The problem is how you execute.
Steve Wozniack likes to tell the story of how Steve Jobs only learned to execute after he was fired from Apple and started NeXT. Jobs was just 30 years old, wildly successful, fabulously wealthy and a global celebrity when he was suddenly fired. But that firing turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was when he came back to Apple that most of the iconic products we know and use today were launched because in his time away, he had learned how to execute.
If you perceive yourself or are perceived as having an “execution problem,” by others, you will benefit from knowing the fundamental reasons why.
Reason #1: You Don’t Have the Right Mindset
In strategy sessions, people often ask questions like: “What would success look like?” and “What action will you take to implement the strategy?” These questions and their answers do not lead to change. That is because, as we have established above, we have a people problem and people are about behavior. And obviously, if you are asking the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answers. Because we are a culture obsessed with positivism, we look to assets and strengths. Fair enough. But what about weaknesses? The right question to ask instead is: “What current behavior do I see in myself, my team, my manager, or my organization that will make success less likely?”
This question is about facing reality, which is a pre-requisite for strategy execution. By articulating the answer to this question, you are identifying the potential barriers to progress, which you must first remove before you can see change. You are also recognizing that behaviors drive results and that mindset drives behavior. To impact change, you have to shift the mindset that leads to behaviors that are not getting results. This is fundamental.
Reason #2: You Don’t Have the Right Goals (or you have too many of them)
Sometimes, people are focused on the wrong things and sometimes they are focused on too many things. If you try to attend to all of your competing priorities, you will lose focus. It is far better to apply more energy against fewer goals because, when it comes to setting goals, the law of diminishing returns kicks in which says in a nutshell that you will achieve 2-3 goals with excellence and 5-6 goals with mediocrity . That is because human beings are genetically hardwired to do one thing at a time with excellence. Multi-tasking is a myth. It causes an overload of the brain’s processing capacity.
Once you have the right goals and the right number of goals, you can identify the right people with the right strengths to apply towards specific goals. Here, you will have to make choices. Execution is about being laser focused and maintaining momentum. The pitfall is trying to get forward momentum on all your work instead of the most important work. You have ask yourself: “What will make the biggest impact?” and “What will get me the biggest bang for my buck?” Then, you have to make that thing happen.
Reason #3: You Don’t Have the Right People
In any team, organization, or coalition, there are strong performers and weaker ones. There are those that are fit for the task because the task speaks to their strengths and those that aren’t because, well, it doesn’t. Strong performers can be identified by their skills, knowledge and commitment. In any environment, you should know the strengths of the people are at the table. If you take a purely democratic and all-inclusive approach, you will miss the opportunity to identify the people who are most essential to achieving your goal. In the case of yourself this becomes about self-awareness.
Reason #4: You Don’t Have the Right Mechanism
Execution is a discipline and, well, it takes discipline to execute. What I mean by that is having the discipline to organize people, assemble resources, and then generate a plan that others can follow in a methodical and systematic process is what it takes to make progress. Organizations (formal or informal) and their related processes are largely conservative bodies that don’t like surprises or chaos. Therefore, you have to be as methodical in your approach as possible. This means disciplined project management, feedback loops, data driven decision making, clear roles and responsibilities, accountability measures, success metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs), kaizen (continuous improvement), scrum, agile, Six Sigma, Lean and so on.
Reason #5: You Don’t Have the Right Support
Finally, if you’ve made it this far and you really feel like you’re already doing all of these things, and yet somehow you’re still perceived as having an “execution problem,” then consider getting an Implementation Coach. Coaching is often used in organizations to fix leadership flaws, but that is only one focus of coaching. If the problem is truly endemic, I recommend hiring an Implementation Coach. The role of an Implementation Coach is to ensure that implementation success is a priority, working at the deepest level to build the skills, knowledge, capacities, systems, and processes needed to deliver results and then to ensure those results will be sustained. The main imperative of an Implementation Coach should be to delivering lasting outcomes.
In addition to being outstanding problem-solvers, these individuals are practical, experienced, and excellent coaches. Their distinctive strength is in knowing how to work with and coach people to get things done. These caching session are about focusing on larger behavioral patterns to the extent that they are getting in the way of the task at hand.
A Final Word…
Ideas are a dime a dozen. I can give you 20 good ones in one conversation. Ideas without implementation are illusion. The art and science of success lies in their execution. Put another way, “the devil is in the implementation.” Many people get energetic about their ideas but fail when it comes time to establishing a systematic approach to execute on those ideas and fail in maintaining motivation. I’ll deal with motivation in some upcoming posts. For now, remember this: execution is a discipline in and of itself. It is the flip side of the coin to planning and setting the right strategy. You need both to succeed.
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