Guest Column: Execution IS the Strategy
Laura Stack is the former president of the National Speakers Association, and organizer of The Elite Retreat, which I facilitate each January. She’s also a good buddy and loves Corvettes. Her new book launches next week.
Execution IS the Strategy:
How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time
by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP
Just like the old gray mare of legend, strategic planning just ain’t what it used to be. The beloved five-year plan—complete with projections and detailed financials—is history. There’s barely enough time to stop and take a breath anymore, much less implement a planning tool that may be stale before it’s a month old. Today’s leaders and business owners rely on front-line workers to help them make reliable decisions on how to best execute the objectives in the moment that advance the organization’s strategy.
In more than twenty years of helping leaders create high-performance cultures and accelerate business growth, I’ve identified four keys to successful strategy execution—what I call the L-E-A-D Formula™: Leverage, Environment, Alignment, and Drive. Without these, even the best strategy can fail. My book, Execution IS the Strategy, outlines solutions to these failures with three factors for each key, and three components for each factor, or 36 different obstacles that might be preventing you from getting things done and achieving your goals. Measure your execution effectiveness at www.ExecutionQuotient.com.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the Four Keys in the L-E-A-D Formula:
Key One: Leverage
One of six simple machines, a lever is a simple machine with a rigid beam that pivots on a fulcrum to magnify an input force, so the resulting leverage can move heavy objects. The concept of leverage works equally well in the workplace to move a large organization. An efficient organization is one that operates with leverage already in place.
- Maximize Your Input Force. The input force is the leader, who pushes down on the lever to achieve maximum output. Do you leverage your talent in a manner that allows you to obtain the maximum input force, only doing what you are unique capable of doing? Willingly delegate authority, allowing others to do what they can do more cheaply and effectively than you. Guide your team in their work without slipping over into micromanagement. Demonstrate trust and lead by example. Never expect of your team members what you won’t do yourself.
- Strengthen the Beam. You can move more weight with your lever if you strengthen your team members. Provide them with better tools and education. Hire high performers, based on the attributes and talents you need. Coach your team members so they can do their best work, matching them with mentors to show them the ropes. Invest in your team, giving them everything they need to strengthen their effectiveness.
- Improve the Fulcrum. Multiply your leverage by moving or raising the fulcrum. First off, give your team the technology and tools they need to do a better, faster job. Emphasize the value of cross-functional thinking—escaping their narrow compartments to work with other teams. Cross-fertilize ideas, offset duplicative work, and coordinate goals with other groups. If necessary, outsource jobs that others can do more inexpensively outside the organization. Partnering with other companies to “fill in the blanks” takes this practice to its logical extreme.
Key 2: Environment
Effective execution depends on establishing a productive, supportive work environment, which depends on the workplace atmosphere.
- Shape the Culture. Foster an environment of excellence, encouraging everyone to give it their best. A firm foundation of accountability—coupled with an emphasis on reliability—is a must. Embrace mutual learning and community to ensure success. All this works best when it takes place within a collaborative atmosphere.
- Encourage Change Hardiness. No matter what, change will constantly pummel your work environment. Embrace it and roll with the punches, encouraging your team to do the same. Offer them a non-punitive atmosphere of risk-taking, where you encourage both creativity and innovation, always motivating your team to do and be better.
- Ensure Engaged, Empowered Employees. The more that people “own” their jobs, the better they perform. Drive engagement among individual employees, encouraging them to take the initiative. Reinforce joint responsibility to achieve team and organizational goals. Show everyone how their efforts contribute to everyone’s success, which will encourage them to own and make the best of their jobs. Give them what they need, and then get out of the way.
Key 3: Alignment
Like a conductor of a symphony, today’s leader is out front watching, keeping everyone on the right track, steering team members toward the organization’s strategic priorities, and listening to their best ideas on how to get there.
- Take Your Team on a Mission. Help your team members harness their overachiever tendencies in a positive, high-level way. Understand what motivates them, realizing they contribute their discretionary effort for different reasons. Show genuine appreciation for hard work, finding ways to be meaningful for all your people. Keep a clear picture of your goals in front of the team, consistently communicating your enthusiasm for your mission.
- Plan for Goal Achievement. Plainly share all team and organizational goals. Establish clear performance expectations for everyone, so they know precisely what they should be doing at every moment, emphasizing common workplace goals. Project planning and management must be seamless to maximize success. Even the most minor, day-to-day activities should advance your common goals, merging strategy and tactics in a positive, productive way.
- Measure Your Progress. Tie each team member’s goals into your project management system, tracking the progress of individual goal attainment. Along the way, check the team’s performance at regular intervals, jointly reviewing key milestones. Meanwhile, create and maintain crisis management plans, which will help you survive when predictable contingencies occur.
Key Four: Drive
As a leader, your greatest importance may lie in clearing the way for your team members to move quickly. This involves smoothing out the speed bumps and removing any obstacles that block task execution, particularly the procedural ones. Think of yourself as a bulldozer.
- Remove Obstacles from the Path. Clear the obstacles, bottlenecks, and roadblocks that slow your team’s productive progress. Emphasize and maintain a tradition of urgency and efficiency, combined with the ability to turn on a dime as necessary. Making speedy decisions while discouraging over-collaboration and perfectionism helps speed things along.
- Add Enablers to the Equation. Maximize your team’s effectiveness by giving them time to think, be strategic, and focus. Set up protocols and guidelines for efficient communications and eliminate activities that don’t support your goals. What you don’t work on can be as important as what you do work on.
- Eliminate Time Wasters. All distractions have to go. Encourage your team to work their tasks in order of priority, after making those priorities clear to them. Continually review what’s on their task lists, without getting in the weeds with tactics steps. Remind them to stay focused on results, not just on staying busy, so they don’t become overwhelmed, soon hitting a point of diminishing returns.
Shift Your Mental Model
By necessity, modern business strategy has become as flexible and changeable as life itself. We still need leaders to hold us to the core values that define our organizations and articulate the mission, vision, goals, and strategy, while the team defines the tactics, which shapes the strategy, as leaders make the course corrections, in a continuous cycle.
Execution itself is the only strategy that matters. A decent strategy, brilliantly executed, trumps a brilliant strategy, poorly executed. It’s not about who has the best ideas—it’s about who executes their ideas best. As leaders and followers form tighter partnerships, the organizations with stellar strategies, which also follow the L-E-A-D Formula, will hurtle forward. Indeed, Execution IS the Strategy that will propel your organization to success.
Get your copy and special educational resources, including videos, leader guide, and complimentary bonuses at http://theproductivitypro.com/execution/bonus.
© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.