It's become grudgingly accepted that roughly two-thirds of organizational change initiatives fail. Whether it's strategic planning, acquisitions, technology implementations, or any other initiative, the results are discouragingly alike.
Despite grand pronouncements and bursts of activity, the reality is that most companies struggle with execution.
According to strategy and execution consultant Michael Canic, there are three things a leader must do to consistently execute: Develop the right focus, create the right environment, and build the right team.
Develop the right focus.
What differentiates the right focus from the wrong focus? As Canic explains in his new book, Ruthless Consistency: How Committed Leaders Execute Strategy, Implement Change, and Build Organizations That Win, the right focus has to be sustained. If it's here today, gone tomorrow, then you haven't truly established a focus. He recommends three practices for creating a consistent focus.
1. Strategic management, not strategic planning.
As Canic recently told me on the Love in Action podcast, many organizations treat strategy as an event instead of a process. Once they've created a strategic plan, the focus reverts back to the demands of the day-to-day. Canic recommends that leaders commit to strategic management, an ongoing process through which the plan is translated into time-linked milestones and actions that are tracked, measured, and managed, with clear responsibilities and accountabilities.
2. Articulate the pain of failure.
While it's important to have a vision of what success looks like, it's equally important to document the pain of not fulfilling the vision. Is it lost market share, the threat of going out of business, or simply squandering a major opportunity? Contrasting the consequences of success and failure creates a more intense and more enduring focus.
3. Do less.
Ambitious leaders typically take on too many initiatives. When they do, resources get diluted, people get stretched too thin, and instead of everything being a priority, nothing is. Do less. Focus on the very few, must-do initiatives, and concentrate your efforts to ensure execution.
Create the right environment
"In the right environment," Canic says, "every organizational touchpoint is consistently aligned with your focus. It results in a culture of both engagement and performance." There are five things a leader can do to create the right environment.
1. Connect the dots.
To engage people, they need to be instilled with a sense of purpose. Yet purpose alone isn't enough. It's also critical to translate that purpose into organizational goals and individual expectations. That makes purpose real and actionable.
2. Equip people to succeed.
Without the necessary resources, people get frustrated. Without the required skills, they feel helpless. Without sufficient authority, they feel they aren't trusted. Leaders need to equip their people to succeed, not set them up to fail. That means providing at least sufficient knowledge, skills, resources, and authority.
3. Coach, don't just manage.
Coaches ask, What do I need to do to help each team member perform at their best? Coaches regularly provide feedback and guidance about performance. They reinforce the right actions and outcomes, and hold team members constructively accountable when expectations aren't met.
4. Design your organization to execute.
Few things irritate people more than when they want to do a good job but cumbersome processes, restrictive policies, or inadequate equipment keep them from doing so. Organizations that consistently execute are organizations that are designed to execute.
5. Connect with the heart and the head will follow.
When you demonstrate that you respect people, trust them, and care about them as individuals, you get discretionary effort -- the above-and-beyond initiative-taking that enhances your organization's ability to execute.
Build the right team.
The right focus and right environment won't matter unless you've built the right team. Canic believes there is one critical element organizations often overlook that keeps them from building the right team.
"Experience," he explains, "tells you what a job candidate has done. Skills tell you what they can do. But traits tell you what they are most likely to do." Leaders should assess a job candidate's traits -- such as competitiveness, conscientiousness, and curiosity -- as rigorously as their experience and skills.
What does it take to consistently execute? The right focus, the right environment, and the right team. "What drives all of it," Canic says, "is leaders who have the right commitment to make it happen."