Leadership Columnists

Bennett: 5 Critical Steps to Successful Execution

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Why do your people fail to execute? Well, failure could be too strong a word, but I would venture to say every shop owner or manager can relate to the frustrations with an employee or a group of employees that struggle to consistently achieve and perform to the level that is needed and expected. When we think about poor performance in our organizations, I’d argue that inconsistency, lackluster results, and poor accountability is less about lazy employees, broken processes, or poor execution and more about a lack of clear-cut goals, poor communication, and unfocused leadership. 

Leadership in business is the capacity of a company's management to set and achieve challenging goals, take fast and decisive action when needed, and inspire others to perform at the highest level they can.  An agile leader is someone who is a pro at crafting and executing organizational or operational strategy and getting everyone on board to execute. This involves breaking the larger vision down into actionable steps, establishing a plan to track progress, ensuring the right people are placed in the right roles, and remaining flexible to address any challenges or priority shifts that come up. As a leader, you achieve greatness when you tap into the potential of your team and manage your employees to consistently high performance and results. Below are the five steps that I believe all high-performing leaders embrace to get consistent high productivity out of well-aligned teams.

Have a Clear Vision

Foundationally, you must have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. It doesn’t matter whether you are installing a brand-new initiative or you’re simply trying to improve the performance of an existing area, a clear and concise understanding of what you are trying to achieve is critical. You can’t “broad-brush” your goals: “We have to increase productivity” or “We must provide better customer service.” Your vision should have as much detail and be as specific as possible. 

Equally important to understanding and buy-in is clearly communicating your goals and the “why” The why communicates the purpose, and more importantly the value, of what you are trying to achieve. Selling the why is critical to creating interest, buy-in, and excitement within your team, so the key piece is to tie your why as the leader to their why as an employee. Understanding that the two motivational questions that engage any employee are “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s the path of least resistance?”, you must tie your why to theirs. How will making a change in what they do achieve a better result for the customer, the company, or the team and why is it worth their interest and their effort (how do they win)? 

Identify High-Impact Players

Secondly, you must identify your high-impact players. These are your influencers. Those people that others will look to to see how they respond or “buy in” to what you are trying to achieve. As influencers, they have the ability to affect the attitudes and behaviors of other employees and teammates. As important as communicating the what and why getting your high-impact influencers onboard gets the team excited from the start and is crucial in maintaining enthusiasm and momentum throughout the change process.

Focus on Results

Speaking of the change process, step three is all about focus. As leaders, we are always focused on results. Obviously, results are important. They’re the indicators of success (or failure) and certainly how we judge the value of the team’s efforts. However, results are simply that, the final product or measure of efforts. What I’d suggest as more foundational is a focus on behaviors. Look at your goals, expectations, and the steps of the process to identify the key behaviors and actions that are necessary to get the desired result. What does someone need to do (or do differently), that if they do it regularly and well, will achieve the result or outcome that you envision? To re-state this clearly: You can’t coach results. You must coach behaviors and actions. Further, once you have identified the behavior or action you must identify how are you going to measure progress in this new area? What metric(s) can you track that will give you, the team, and individuals the feedback that the change in behavior is being done and is working? 

Coach Employees Up

Understanding that new goals or strategies could be individual, departmental, or organizational, the necessary actions and behavioral change may be different for every individual or area. Step four is making sure we have laser-focused one-on-one coaching sessions with each employee on a regular basis (weekly if not daily). These sessions are all about strengthening the belief and behavioral change; communicating individual results, reinforcing the positives, and working through deficiencies and or buy-in issues. Doing something new (or different) is difficult. The key is to change the habit. Early in the process, this must be a very purposeful effort on your part as a manager or leader to support. Consistent feedback, reinforcement, and communication is critical, and it must be very specific to the individual. Success and growth depend on each member of your organization's daily tasks and decisions, so it’s vital to ensure everyone understands not only the company's broader goals and objectives, but how their individual responsibilities make achieving them possible.

Reinforce Goals and Get Feedback

Finally, you must equally concentrate on purposeful reinforcement and feedback with the team to sustain group buy-in, momentum, and foster individual accountability to the team. Address the organization in regular all-staff meetings to foster a culture that celebrates milestones on the way to reaching execution targets and strategic goals. 

We operate in a complex and ever-changing environment, so acknowledge the value of focus when identifying your greatest opportunities for improvement and change. Instead of setting your team up for mediocre efforts towards dozens of meaningless goals, effective execution starts with a concentration on one important focused goal at a time. Focusing on one strategic goal at a time and using the five steps to success listed here will ensure that everyone in the organization is fully aligned and committed to achieving the best results.

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