Just as the most dangerous part of a jet flight is going from cruise altitude to landing, making the transition from a lofty vision and innovative strategy to ground-level implementation requires great focus and flawless execution.
Having perspective and strategy is important; however, when we examine business plans that miss the mark, we find that the problem is rarely with the vision or strategy but rather with implementation and execution.
For 30 years, we have worked with senior executive teams on implementing sound strategies. We find that four key elements must be in place:
Operational Excellence for Execution
- Assessing and developing the knowledge and competency of the senior leaders. Assess the strengths and competencies of the senior management team and identify potential gaps that could impact implementation. You can learn what gaps in skills or knowledge exist through formal assessments conducted by an experienced third party to encourage candor and objectivity. In other instances, knowledge gaps become apparent through multiple interactions. Leaders must know their strengths and shortcomings and address the gaps, either by recruiting new members or developing the requisite skills or knowledge.
- The senior leadership team must be fully aligned with the intent and direction of the strategic initiative. Although candor and cooperation among senior leaders are crucial, functional heads often pursue their own objectives to the detriment of the strategic initiative. The implementation of key initiatives requires the full alignment and shared accountability of senior leaders. A lack of cooperation is readily apparent. Passive-aggressive behavior in staff meetings, a “not invented here” attitude when presented with new ideas, or a reluctance to embrace change indicate something is amiss. Unless senior leaders embrace the strategic objective and commit to its implementation, the odds for success are low.
- The culture must support the initiative and adhere to the essential values set. Certain values are so vital that we refer to them as the Essential Values Set. Culture is largely determined by the values shared by its members. This Essential Values Set is a universal set of principles that govern how the organization defines acceptable behavior. The presence of the Essential Values Set explains why some companies excel in executing strategic initiatives.
- The reward and recognition system must be aligned with the outcomes of the strategy. The cash compensation plan, along with other rewards, needs to be aligned with the cross-functional goals of the strategic initiative. Leaders should be rewarded for accomplishments in their areas of responsibility and for their support of cross-organizational initiatives. How aligned is your rewards and recognition process with the strategic initiative?
High-performance Teams are Characterized by Six Healthy Values
- Performance value. This “make it happen” value focuses on setting challenging expectations and achieving results with accountability. With a healthy performance value, people seek innovative ways to overcome obstacles, encourage teamwork, and accept prudent risk-taking. Without a healthy performance value, people engage in finger-pointing, passive-aggressive behavior, and blame-avoidance.
- Collaborative value. Collaboration is built upon principles of trust, sharing, open and direct communication, and a belief in the positive intent of team members. Collaboration promotes teamwork, mutual support, and decisions made for the greater good.
- Change value. The successful execution of key initiatives requires innovation, openness, and positive support for new ideas. Leaders operating from a healthy change mindset act as coaches, as opposed to judges or critics of new ideas. They encourage innovation, risk, and growth, as opposed to dismissing new ideas or diverse points of view. They refuse to allow a rigid bureaucracy or current processes to kill innovatio .
- Customer value. The customers’ experience is a barometer of overall health. This value can also be defined as how well the organization focuses on a greater purpose-something beyond itself. The best leaders are focused on better serving internal and external customers. Positive and productive initiatives are framed in the context of a customer-value perspective.
- Integrity value. Integrity refers to the consistency between the senior leadership’s words and their actions. Integrity is crucial for effective strategy execution. Integrity goes beyond simple compliance. At its core, integrity goes to consistency between word and deed to walking the talk.
- Health value. Senior leadership teams that execute well share a healthy climate characterized by openness, trust, mutual respect, optimism, and hopefulness. This health value enables leaders to generate positive energy, assume the best motives and intentions in others, be more present and listen to one another for different points of view.
These six values position senior leaders as positive role models. If there is mistrust, internal competition, or negative assumptions of motives among senior leaders, the implementation of the strategy will be impaired.
Case Study: Execution Excellence Framework
The new CEO of a cellular telephone company and his executive team grappled with many challenges—one being to determine a strategy for competing in markets dominated by better-financed competitors. The senior leaders concluded that excellence in customer service was the key. They believed that if they could endear themselves to their customers, they could reduce the erosion of their customer base and free up resources to attract new customers. Reducing turnover by improving its service could result in $400 million in additional annual profits.
Here’s how this firm used the Four Elements of Execution to achieve this goal.
- Assessing and developing the knowledge mid competency of the senior leaders. They assessed the strengths and capabilities of staff to ensure that those charged with leading the initiative had the requisite skills. Their analysis revealed some gaps in knowledge that would be difficult to develop internally. So, they recruited several new executives with these capabilities.
- Senior feeders must be fully aligned with the intent mid direction of the strategic initiative. The success of the initiative hinged on everyone becoming committed to improved customer service. Knowing that employees would be looking to them, senior managers resolved their differences behind closed doors. While dissent and alternative points of view were welcomed in staff meetings, a unified front was required after the meetings.
- The culture must support the initiative and live the essential values. Presenting a positive and unified front reinforced the desire to better serve the customer. Although the leaders came from different business units, they put aside their individual needs and collaborated to identify innovative methods for serving the customer. Their ability to coach others and maintain focus on the customer’s experience contributed to the success. Senior leaders held each other accountable to “walk the talk.” They faced many setbacks and obstacles but maintained a healthy climate with an optimistic view of the future and cast a positive shadow.
- The reward and recognition system must be aligned with outcomes of the strategy. Senior leaders realigned their executive compensation reward and recognition system to support the collaborative measures necessary to implement the strategic plan.
Improve Your Execution
After two years, the company moved from 7th place to 1st in the JD Powers ranking of Cellular Customer Service and Loyalty. Customer turnover levels were 67 percent lower than national competitors. This resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profits.
The behaviors of leaders cast long shadows and dictate success in implementing major initiatives. Senior leaders must embrace and model the four key elements of superior execution.