Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street? The little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa, but mutters “I believe…I believe” anyway? I’m reminded of that scene when I think about corporate strategy. Until the little girl sees the present she asked for, she is hopeful, but not a true believer.
Employees and leaders are the same way. They want to believe in the strategic planning process. They know they are supposed to believe in the ultimate strategy, but it’s hard. Until they see what they’ve asked for, it’s all just a bunch of words and a lot of PowerPoint. And unfortunately, years of failing to take tangible actions leave companies with wishful thinkers.
Research shows most corporations fail to compete not because their strategy is good or bad, but because they are unable to execute their chosen strategy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are countless numbers of books written by really smart people who tell us the importance of execution.
They are right. Execution is the game changer…if for no other reason than the culture of success created by following through on a plan and holding each other accountable for performance.
The NFL is a great example. In a league of salary caps and parity, where teams are separated by just seven points, some teams flourish and others struggle to win.
The difference is execution.
Without execution there is little chance of meaningful long-term success. But you can take steps now to change that. You can take steps to improve execution in 2011.
Where to start? You must first build trust—in the process, in your leadership, and in your organization to make decisions and take actions consistent with your strategy.
To build trust in the process, you need to ensure your strategy is tied to a real understanding of the market. Employees are savvy. They know the difference between an outside-in view and the kind that comes from “the ivory tower.” Regardless of how smart your employees think you are, or how much they respect you, at the end of the day they want validation.
The best way we have found validate or vet strategy with the market is through interactions with key customers. It could be as simple as a roundtable discussion of your S.W.O.T., or as sophisticated as a facilitated Advisory Council. Either way, you gain rich feedback validating your opportunities and constraints. You get a clear picture of the market and where it is headed. And, you strengthen your customer relationships in the process.
This feedback and market clarity is critical as you work to build the second level of trust—trust in your leadership. Think about what has happened to the employment contract over the past ten to twenty years. We’ve told employees they should be loyal to their companies, even when their companies are not. We want employees to be advocates for our brand, but we often fail to educate and support this effort.
To rebuild trust in leadership, your strategy must be relevant. Creating an outside-in strategy is a good first step. The second is to start a dialogue. The good news is both ends of the generational divide are actually united. Baby boomers and millennials both desire integrity and transparency in leadership. They wish to participate in—not be spoken “at” or “to”.
While some companies are testing social media and online communities, there is still a lot to be said for facilitated face-to-face engagements. We particularly like Root Learning’s strategy map process which is grounded in adult learning techniques. It helps employees understand and participate in the strategy process—the need to change, the alternatives considered and the path chosen.
By rebuilding trust in the process and in leadership, you have improved your chance of succeeding. Your journey, however, is far from complete. To build trust in the organization you must help the organization let go of the past (i.e. destructive behaviors), while at the same time celebrate successes and hold each other accountable for performance.
Performance management is a key component to connect organizational, functional and individual performance objectives to the roadmap and behaviors. The metrics for determining progress will need to be communicated frequently through town halls and internal communication vehicles.
We also suggest creating an internal board to monitor employee understanding of the strategy and provide feedback on how communications are perceived by different parts of the organization. By understanding how long to stay on message and when and how to adapt your messages, you’ll improve the capability of the organization to execute and you’ll greatly improve organizational trust.
Great execution is no miracle. By taking steps now to rebuild trust in your process, your leadership and your organization, you will create an organizational culture known for execution and success.