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My previous post discussed why execution is hard and offered you a self-assessment to rate your organisation. Next week we will provide a proven method for execution. Any method, however, is only as effective as the principles that inform it. There are numerous principles which were appropriate in the Industrial Age which must be replaced by modern principles better suited for today’s work and workplace.

Here are 5 (modern) principles to inform execution.

1. Unlock contribution

Many organisations hold unexamined assumptions that limit employee contribution. They still rely on the top down, command and control approaches that fuelled growth and profitability in the industrial era. The basic tenants of this management style: ensuring control, eliminating variance, and rewarding conformance inhibit collaboration and organisational learning. The result is organisations led by well-meaning managers who fail when they confront dynamic contexts. The principle is to unlock contribution by soliciting input. People commit to what they create. We must seek contribution from the Extended Leadership Team (they translate strategy into action) and Front Line Staff (whose close proximity to the customer provides critical insight).

2. Fewer. Bigger. Better.

Many strategy roadmaps contain dozens of projects which impact the organisation concurrently. The results in noise (“another project? Where does this one fit in?”) and organisational clutter. This is often the result of lazy, disaggregated thinking or (more often) shows that the Executive Leadership Team failed to provide the necessary bundling and narrative to show how what look to be 5 separate initiatives are really one program. If you’re currently trying to execute five, ten, or even twenty important goals, the truth is that your team can’t focus. The Fewer, Bigger, Better principle improves execution. Fewer projects reduce the burden on cross-functional resources and provides these projects ‘wildly important’ status (more on that next week) which means more focus and resources. Bigger programs have increased scope and size to meet targets and leverage scale. Better projects are differentiated, with strong value propositions and support that will drive sustainable benefits.

3. Accelerate Agency 

Most leaders can differentiate between lag measures (revenue, market share, profit, etc.) and lead measures.  Lead measures are the measures of the most high-impact things your team must do to reach the goal.  In essence, the measure of the new behaviours that will drive success on the lag measures.  We must provide our teams with the ability to select the behaviours within their control that will influence these lead measures.  We all recognise how demoralising it is to be given a goal and not believe we can influence the outcome. This is the principle of agency.  When we have a sense of agency, we have a feeling of control over actions and their consequence.  Literally hundreds of valid research studies show that agency is fundamental for goal achievement.

4. Keep Score 

People play differently when they’re keeping score. If you doubt this, watch any group of kids playing soccer and see how the game changes the minute scorekeeping begins.  The truth of the statement is more clearly revealed by a change in emphasis: people play differently when they are keeping score.  It’s not about you keeping score for them.  The principle of engagement is absolute.  The highest level of performance always comes from people who are emotionally engaged and the highest level of engagement comes from knowing the score – that is, if people know whether they’re winning or losing.  It’s that simple.

5. Execution as Learning 

Execution as learning means operating in a way that allows organisations to learn as they go.  It means that work groups, departments, or entire companies can adjust, improvise, or innovate while at the same time delivering products or services to customers.  It is a way of operating that is deliberately and consciously iterative, where action and reflection go hand-in-hand.  Execution is learning can best be understood in contrast to execution as efficiency, a stylised description of classic industrial error management approaches period in execution as efficiency, leader provide answers.  It’s assumed that those at the top know more about how to get results than those who do the work at the front lines of production or customer service.  Those at the top, along with the smart, technical people that employ, invest considerable effort into figuring out and installing optimal work processes.  This investment makes process change unattractive (and rare), because everyone knows that implementing change is a huge undertaking.  Feedback is usually a one way street: bosses tell subordinates whether or not they did what they were supposed to do, and subordinates or not X or not expected to offer solutions or judgements period finally, execution as efficiency tends to use fear as a tool to keep people in line period indeed, when tasks require a little judgement or ingenuity, when they are done by independent individuals, and when quality can Isley be observed, then for Rick and motivate effort without apparently harming results period. Employees must absorb, and sometimes, create, new knowledge while executing.  Because this happens among individuals working together, collective, team-based learning is the primary vehicle for organisational learning.


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LinkedIn Discussion:  These principles are based on research and experience.  How do you see them (or others) leading to successful execution?

Lighthouse Group