Companies frequently develop vision and mission statements about being the best at what they do and how they reward good performance. Yet more often than not, these statements are so far from reality that they become joke fodder for clients and employees alike.
Senior leaders often have a blind spot in this area. Many believe that their job is setting the direction and tone, and that execution is the responsibility of lower-level managers. They assume that if they clearly communicate an exciting vision of the future to an engaged workforce, strategy execution will take care of itself.
Our survey data shows how widespread the problem is. Results show that almost half of those surveyed believe there is a gap between their organization's ability to develop a vision and strategy and its ability to execute that strategy, and 64 percent lack confidence that this execution gap can be closed.
But you can make a conscious effort to close the execution gap. You simply have to take some tried and true steps to creating a "get it done" culture. Here are our top 9 ways.
1. Recognize Strategy Execution Starts With a Plan
A solid plan facilitates the organization and coordination of related work activities, prevents operational delays and bottlenecks in work processes, helps people avoid duplication of effort, and helps employees set priorities and meet deadlines. It also helps you prepare for potential problems before they happen.
Remember that the most useful plans are flexible starting points that can be changed to address needs or challenges as you encounter them.
2. Ensure Plans are Coordinated Across the Organization
A common snafu is that the head of one department will implement a new initiative without considering how it will affect the overall company or specific departments. Anticipating how your deadlines and available resources impact other groups at the start of the project gives you a chance to work out schedules and the sharing of resources to minimize the conflicts and misunderstandings that typically contribute to poor cooperation and delays.
3. Clarify Roles, Responsibilities and Expectations
It's often difficult to get things done because people don't understand their role, responsibilities, or what exactly is expected of them. One reason employees aren't always clear on what they should be doing and when is because their manager assumed that they understand what needs to be done. Another common problem is that managers fear they might insult an employee's intelligence by stating what seems obvious to them. Finally, some leaders may simply believe that they are too busy to spell things out, not realizing the possible consequences of failing to do so.
4. Establish Clear Goals
Goals help everyone focus on important activities and responsibilities. They facilitate constructive performance feedback by ensuring that managers and direct reports or team members have a shared picture of expected outcomes.
Performance improves because specific objectives guide effort toward the most productive activities, and challenging objectives tend to energize a higher level of effort. The only way to improve the way you're doing things is to set clear, measurable goals and constantly monitor your success in those areas.
5. Don't Micromanage Employees, But Do Monitor Them
Your employees who take initiative and do an effective job without much direction from you are the gems that make your organization special. You may be concerned they'll think you're micromanaging them if you're keeping an eye on things. Don't be.
When done right, monitoring does not have to feel like micromanaging. Use it as an opportunity to recognize effective behavior, involve your employees in developing meaningful measures of performance, and determining the timing of periodic follow-ups.
6. Balance Analysis of a Problem and Decisive Action
Effective leaders move quickly to deal with a threat or problem. Nevertheless, they know they must make an accurate diagnosis of the problem and identify the best remedies before taking action. Great leaders know when additional information or analysis will only delay action without adding value. To facilitate a rapid, effective response, top performers anticipate potential problems and disruptions and develop contingency plans in advance.
7. Make Decisions as Close to the Action as Possible
If you want to improve the quality of your decisions and gain support for them, involve the people who are closest to the situation as well as those who will be affected by the decision. Involvement at the early stage of the decision-making process ensures critical information surfaces in a timely manner and enhances people's ownership of the ultimate outcome.
8. Facilitate Informal and Spontaneous Interaction Among Employees
Your employees' informal relationships are key in getting things done. The ability to connect with a colleague "in the moment" when you have a problem or new information is essential for effective execution. Use virtual workspaces, video conferencing, instant messaging and private social networks, especially for virtual teams, to provide proximity and access to a dispersed group of people.
9. Turn Your Performance Management System Into a Business Tool
Performance management systems are important tools leaders have to ensure effective execution. They ensure goals are aligned across levels and work units, help people know what they need to do and how they need to do it, and allow leaders to monitor progress toward goals. When used effectively, they provide early warning when things are off course.
Improved Strategy Execution
When you put these elements in place, you can expect to see a general improvement in individual, team, and overall organizational ability to execute plans and initiatives. Your employees will start getting things done more consistently, and these regular wins will encourage them and inspire them to redouble their efforts. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
They'll get focused on being more efficient, coordinating and cooperating across departments, and monitoring the quality of their work. One day you'll look around and realize your mission statement actually rings true-and that's one of the best feelings you'll ever have as a leader.