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Lighthouse has worked with dozens of organisations over the last 20+ years and carefully observed their innerworkings. We have reviewed relevant research and achieved master’s degree qualifications.

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Below are 10 factors contributing to failed execution. I encourage you to reflect on these and then complete the self-assessment below.

1. Poor planning

Many strategies fail to adequately consider implementation. The plan lacks ‘execution-level’ detail and consideration. In many cases, the executive team authored the plan but failed to invite the extended leadership team to flesh out its’ ‘executable-ness’. As a result, the complexities, barriers, and pockets of change resistance are too much to overcome.

2. Lack of alignment

On average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy (ref). Execution stalls because people don’t see the connection between their role and the strategy.

3. Focus on Lag Measures, not Lead Indicators

Too often we measure execution by the Lag Measures we want to shift (revenue, market share, customer satisfaction) and not by the Lead Indicators (#sales appointments conducted, %customer issues resolved within SLA, %campaigns launched on schedule). If we want to lose weight, we need to focus more on consuming fewer calories and less on what the scale says!

4. Silo mentality

Strategic objectives call for organisation-wide, integrated efforts. If you don’t have coordination across functions (’silos’), critical steps are missed, and value is destroyed as things slip between the boxes of the org chart. Value Chain and stakeholder analysis can be helpful for determining who needs to do what and where.

5. Improper incentives

Our organisations are filled with conflicting priorities, KPIs and accountabilities. If one group is focused on volume, another on service, and yet another on profitability, these differing objectives get in the way.

6. Poor leadership

Implementation involves the need for change, so you need people who can manage it well. Poor leadership will almost certainly doom execution efforts.

7. Ineffective decision-making

Successful execution relies on successful decision-making. Consider that in an organisation of 5,000 people, there are 40 million decisions made per day! And only 28% of employees feel the quality and speed of their company’s decision making is generally good (ref). If decisions are too slow or take us off track, it’s no wonder we struggle to execute.

8. Psychological insecurity

Superior execution requires employees to bring their best ideas and contributions. If team members believe they will be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes there’s a lack of Psychological Safety. Execution is sure to suffer.

9. Fixed mindsets

Execution in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (‘VUCA’) environments requires creativity, risk-taking and resilience-after-failure. If our organisations are filled with people who give up after the first failed attempt (a hallmark of the fixed mindset), even the best strategies are destined for failure.

10. Human nature

Focusing to execute requires discipline and accountability – which means we must break through our own human tendencies. If our team members lack accountability, how can we execute our strategies?

“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

Self-Assess

On a 1-10 Scale (10 being the highest), rate your organisation’s Execution Across these 10 factors. Total your score out of 100.

90-100 Exemplary. Your organisation is setting the standard for Execution. How can you leverage this strength this to new markets or new products?

70-89 Outstanding. Your organisation is well ahead of the pack. Try to identify one weakness and improve it over the next 3 months.

50-69 Functional. You win some, you lose some. But on the whole your organisation achieves most of its strategic ambitions. The journey, however, is often chaotic and inefficient. Consider how you can lift this to the next level to achieve more.

30-59 Lagging. Your organisation is not likely to meet the needs of its most important stakeholders. Prioritise 2-3 of the factors above for immediate action.

10-29 Emergency. Your organisation is in trouble.

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LinkedIn Discussion: This summary is based on research and experience – but I’m sure still incomplete. I’d love to hear from you: What’s Missing?

Lighthouse Group