Improving your capability to execute change A Leadership Issue

13 January

In 2001 Larry Bossidy stated ‘My job at Honeywell International these days is to restore the discipline of execution to a company that had lost it. Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader. That’s wrong. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important job.’

As a consultant I often hear that effective leaders think strategically. They analyze opportunities and problems from a broad perspective and decide what changes need to be made to have a significant impact on the organization. 

Often what is missing from a strategic standpoint is a discipline for executing the needed change. If change is the norm why not build an organization that can effectively implement it? Transformation is moving a company from current state to future state. Well one piece of that transformation must focus on developing the organization’s competency to execute change to get you there.

What do you need to do to put your organization in a position that enables you to efficiently implement changes that are needed to move you forward? This is not a simple undertaking. It does not occur as a single announcement or decree by senior leaders. And it does not occur by simply training people about how to execute change. When you build organizational competencies to execute change you are fundamentally changing how the organization handles its approach to implement change. Change execution competency building must be viewed not only as a change to how people work, but also how people behave.

If the process to execute change remains status quo there can be a lot of activity with little progress. Direction and focus is needed to guide the deployment efforts and ensure alignment in order to execute the change that is needed to transform the company. This means rearranging and prioritizing portfolios of business investments, assessing how resources are allocated to those investments and deciding how those investments get sequenced in order to optimize the return on those investments. It also means answering some critical questions:

Can we identify how we are going to turn the plan into specific results for growth?

Are we staffed with the right kinds of people to execute the plan?

If not, what are we going to do about it?

The ability to execute is the great unaddressed issue in the business world today. Its absence is the single biggest obstacle to success and the cause of most of the disappointments that are mistakenly attributed to other causes. Often it appears that leaders place too much emphasis on what some call high-level strategy and intellectualizing and philosophizing and not enough on execution.

A fundamental problem is people think of execution as the tactical side of business, something leaders delegate while they focus on the perceived bigger issues. This idea is wrong. Execution is not just tactical it is a discipline and a system that has to be built into a company’s strategy. And the leaders of the organization must be deeply engaged in it.

Leaders I talk to tell me they have a problem with accountability; people aren’t doing the things they are supposed to do to implement the plan. However through some quick assessments what I often find is there are too many priorities and people have too many things on their plates preventing them from focusing on execution. Execution is not a task that does or doesn’t get done. Execution is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that companies need to master in order to have competitive advantage. Execution is a systematic process of rigorous questioning and oversight, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability at all levels. Effective execution is critical for success. The concept of execution is fairly simple.  It’s focusing your limited resources on the most important investments to move your company forward and following up to ensure things are getting done on time.

You can’t craft a worthwhile strategy if you don’t at the same time make sure your organization has or can get what’s required to execute it including the right resources and the right people. The gap nobody knows is the gap between what a company’s leaders want to achieve and the ability of their organization to achieve it. Execution is the missing link between aspirations and results. Execution is also a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it. Problem is most companies don’t face reality very well.

Execution sets the pace for everything. It enables you to see what’s going on, when things will finish and when resources will become available. Leading execution is very straightforward stuff. The main requirement is that as a leader you must be deeply and passionately engaged in the execution of your strategy and honest about the realities in your organization as it relates to gaps in your execution processes.

To reach the goals of future state requires a mindset that says what are our leaders doing to keep project teams focused by protecting them from distractions and by reminding them of the priority of their mission. Leaders must agree and work with these ideas, or change execution is likely to be very painful, and the best people will be lost in the process.

Bottom line leaders must employ execution as a discipline with intensity and rigor.


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