I’m working with a client whose industry has changed rapidly – their once-leading market position has eroded as the competition copied-then-developed lower-cost products. We are working with the local MD and his ELT to plot the path back to a leadership position. As we reviewed their 2017 Plan on a Page it became clear that they know what to do – the Strategy is sound. Unfortunately many of the same Strategic Initiatives on that page were also on the 2016 Plan on a Page. In short: they know WHAT to do but like many organisations, struggle to GET IT DONE.
Strategy Execution was the #1 concern for CEOs for two years running, according to Conference Board research. Yet research also shows that successful strategic execution remains one of the greatest challenges faced by organisations. We find that most execution goes beyond a simple ‘stroke of the pen’ where the leader simply makes it so. Instead the vast majority of execution (65% +) needs to be led through people.
How can Leaders close this “Strategy to Execution Gap”?
At Lighthouse we see this as a three-step process:
1) Determine where you want to go and where you are now
2) Identify the capabilities required to get you there
3) Focus like you’ve never focused before
Where are we now?
It’s the Leader’s job to recognise where the organisation or team’s position relative to where it needs to head. Important questions must be answered: do we know where we are vs. where we want to go? Do we know why we want to go there? Do we know what’s going to stand in our way? Do we know how to navigate around or through these obstacles? Lighthouse uses the NEWS Platform to help organisations and teams answer all these questions and chart a course from where they are to where they want to go. Critically…once the course is mapped – there must be one (and only one) plan – which is understood by everyone. My experience suggests that there are often multiple plans or one plan that is understood differently in different parts of the organisation
What do I need to get there?
Leaders often focus on creating and communicating the case for change, as they should. But all too often they delegate ‘how we’re going to get there’ to others. Instead leaders need to be involved in designing and then sponsoring the Change Programme (typically made up of multiple projects). Lighthouse relies on dozens of years experience to help organisations and teams build a roadmap for change. The roadmap must be underpinned by the capabilities (People / Process / Technology) needed to succeed. Leaders need to take a lead role in the “what do we need to succeed” process.
How can we focus to achieve?
This is the key. Achieving the projects on the strategy roadmap requires an extraordinary level of collective focus. Typically we see leaders try to rely on willpower and individual discipline to sustain this focus…but we know these burn out in about three months. We also know that execution does not like complexity. The best friends of execution are clarity, simplicity and transparency.
The kind of sustainable focus required is incredibly rare because:
- The Day Job – sometimes called The Whirlwind- consumes leaders and their teams. The Whirlwind sucks up every available hour and is a relentless taskmaster that does not allow any of us to work on ‘important, non-urgent’ tasks.
- Leaders add ‘pet projects’ to the Whirlwind. Do you know what the team thinks when you and the ELT go away together? Something like: “Oh no…here come a bunch of new initiatives that we’ll be asked to start working on”. Fact: there are always more good ideas then there is time to execute or implement them.
- Applying this level of focus requires discipline and accountability – which means we must break through our own human tendencies.
“Discipline is hard–harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline, accountability and follow through. We are built for novelty and excitement. “ ― Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
This article was written by Eric Miller, Senior Partner with Lighthouse and forms the first in a series of 3 articles on achieving strategy through focus and discipline. Stay tuned for the next articles in this series – “The Four Keys to Maximise Your Execution” and “Dealing with Hidden Resistance”.
Lighthouse’s purpose is to spark an evolution in leadership. We know that having an aligned and disciplined leadership team are the key ingredients to achieving your strategic objectives. For more information on our approach to Leadership Team Strategy, please visit our webpage. Please get in touch with us if you would like to have a confidential discussion on how you can implement these principles with your leaders. Phone 02 9091 0305 for Sydney or 03 9563 6628 for Melbourne.