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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Executive Education

How to Bridge the Chasm between Formulating Your Strategy and Achieving Results

Far too many organizations do a poor job of translating their well- formulated strategies into their anticipated results. Whether related to unclear goals, lack of accountability or undertaking activities irrelevant to results, the inability to deliver comes from poor execution.

Too often, people spend time, energy and resources on stuff that just doesn’t matter to the execution of the organization’s strategy. Employees are busy — really busy — spending time working outside the margins of executing the organization’s strategy.

If this is the case in your organization, it’s time to align the gears and alleviate the friction that’s slowing down progress. This involves assessing the “seven gears of execution” and actively managing them in such a way that everyone is working toward a common vision, strategy and set of priorities. In this way, you set the foundation to effectively drive execution of your competitive strategy throughout the organization.

To ensure better results, analyze these seven gears of execution:

1st Gear – Focusing on right, right, right. The best organizations continually address how to get the right people in the right roles with the right capabilities to drive their strategy to results. Frankly, most organizational leaders don’t devote enough time or energy to developing the team. But given today’s rapid pace of business transformation, the jobs most people perform today will change dramatically over the course of their careers. Staying in front of the curve requires putting a structure in place for thinking through the performance in each current role, the potential for future roles, and the capabilities that need to be developed for both current and future roles. Then, connect that assessment to a development plan for each member of your team.

2nd Gear – Aligning the architecture. Four elements of organizational architecture must be aligned in the direction of your strategy: systems, structures, processes and culture. For example, in thinking about the compensation, rewards and recognition, talent management and promotions systems in your organization, it’s helpful to ask yourself questions such as: How aligned are they to your strategy and strategic goals? How well does your compensation system reward people for delivering results consistent with the strategy? To what extent do your organization’s growth and development efforts help people build the capabilities you’ll need for success in the future?

3rd Gear – Promoting a culture of communication. Communication, or lack of, is one of the most critical issues facing most organizations. For organizations to truly communicate effectively, they need to focus on five critical elements:

  • Committing to consistency and repetition; once is not enough
  • Setting a foundation for integrity, trust and respect. Make it okay for people to express different points of view and expect open, honest information to flow
  • Engaging in the conversations by fully listening, confirming what you heard and responding in a way that shows team members their ideas matter
  • Providing effective feedback, customized to the person and the situation
  • Working through conflict with the outcome focused on improvement, not punishment

4th Gear – “SET”ting results-oriented goals. Often, at any level, from the frontline to senior executives, people aren’t able to clearly define their goals. Or, if they do list goals, they frequently describe what activities they perform rather than what results they’re trying to achieve. This is a sign of misalignment with your organization’s strategy. A simple way to gauge alignment is to have leaders and performers each write down the performer’s top five goals and see if any match.

To implement result-oriented goals, define what the performer must accomplish rather than what activities he/she should do. Once you’ve identified the result, refine the goals to using the acronym SET: Starting point, Ending point, and Timeframe for achievement. The starting point and ending point define the gap between your current results and where you want to be. Often, merely understanding this gap drives performance.

5th Gear – Building visible scorecards. Good scorecards drive performance. They allow performers and the organization to see the connection between performance and results, and then adjust. Ensure everyone has a scorecard that aligns to their result-oriented goals and is visible and available to them “during the game.” This allows them to change the outcome of the game while it’s still being played. Keep score with quantitative measures of performance — units sold, product shipped, market share, etc. The best scorecards show trends in performance over time, which makes the information in the scorecard more meaningful.

6th Gear – Identifying the performance drivers. Pinpoint what critical behaviors allow your team members to most effectively and efficiently move the needles on the scorecard and hit the goals. Once the performance drivers have been identified, focus on helping team members execute them effectively and consistently by building their capabilities through training, development and deliberate practice.

7th Gear – Following-up/following-through. The very act of leaders following up and expecting performers to follow through sends a clear message that critical goals and performance drivers matter. To create effective Follow-up/Follow-through, leaders and performers must first agree upon the follow-up/follow-through frequency or cycle time. Performers are then responsible for scheduling the specific follow-up time on their manager’s calendar — or moving up the timeframe if they hit a stumbling block. The performer is responsible for leading the conversation about what the goals are, what performance has looked like since the last follow-up/follow-through conversation, what caused any performance gaps and what the plan is moving forward to lift performance to a higher level or close any performance gaps.

Aligning these seven gears will drive better results at every level of your organization. It will engage everyone to contribute their best toward effectively executing your well-devised strategy to keep your organization competitive.


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Sean T. Ryan
Sean T. Ryan is a world-renowned business consultant, speaker, trainer and executive coach. As the founder of Whitewater International Consulting, he has worked internationally with companies such as Disney, Nucor Steel, FedEx and Nestle Waters of North America/Perrier Group of America. With more than two decades of industry experience, Sean is highly regarded for his ability to guide organizations through complex transformational change in what he describes as "a world of perpetual whitewater". His new book is Get in Gear: Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results (Productivity Press, Aug. 20, 2020). Sean T. Ryan is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.