The sequestration issue is the latest in a series of economic/governmental crises that have marked the current administration’s tenure. This blog is about strategy implementation, which presumes both a strategy to begin with and a leader to see the implementation through. It’s difficult to see either in this case. Yes, both sides are responsible for the current situation, but the president as the leader is accountable and should be able to avoid the continual mini-crises and brinksmanship that shake investors, consumers, and all economic sectors as these events clearly have. I’ll be the first to say that politics and business leadership are different, but what they have in common in this case is the need for the leader to move ahead without creating continual waves of crisis and uncertainty. Other presidents–Reagan and Clinton to name two–have had to deal with entrenched opposition and have done so productively. There are those who say that this is the current president’s intent. Whether it is or isn’t his intent, not effective leadership.
One of the key elements to making a strategy work is effective leadership to maintain focus throughout the implementation. We’ve all heard that strategy is as much about what you won’t do as it is about what you will do, but distractions and diversions are very, very tempting to organizations.
Ideally, when you craft a strategy you’ve first created a detailed vision of what you want to be. The strategy then is how you will get there. One of the difficulties is keeping in contact with the vision while you’re in the midst of everyday business. Put another way, you’ve got your future state in mind, but it’s what happens between now and then that determine if you’ll make it and it’s relatively easy to lose the connection between now and the longer-term.
Success is not so much a matter of framework or structure, but rather of discipline, the right decision making, adjustments to direction, and making progress. Just as you make constant adjustments with a steering wheel in order to drive a car, the leader must make continual adjustments to direction to keep the organization focused on the strategy. And that also means saying “no” to diversions no matter how attractive they may appear.
Leadership is critically important to implementing a strategy and making it work.
Setting different cultures and leadership styles aside, here are fundamentals that work in any situation to improve employee accountability:
1. First, design jobs for results, not activities. Too many job descriptions are lists of 27 activities instead of 4-8 outcomes for which they are accountable. When an employee is focused on doing many tasks, they can’t be focused on overall job results.
2. Set performance measures based on accountabilities. People work best when they: a. know what’s expected of them, b. can measure their own progress, and know that management will evaluate and reward them based on those same measures.
3. Be managers and stop doing the work of subordinates. Managers who routinely do the work of subordinates cannot also be managers. Expect people to learn from mistakes – repetitive mistakes mean the person can’t/won’t learn and that sends an extraordinarily undermining message to other employees, other managers, and especially to the person in question.
4. Maintain high expectations. We all know past teachers and bosses who had high expectations and who caused us to do far more than we thought we could.
5. Be someone employees respect. People want to do well, and they especially want to do well for managers they respect. There’s a significant difference between respect and fear. People do their best for managers they respect; they do the minimum acceptable for managers they fear. Fear-based managers dare people to fail and play “gotcha” by pointing out how people didn’t measure-up. Employees respect managers who expect a lot and coach people to be successful.
Having worked on CEO succession plans and processes for a number of organizations, I was intrigued this week when Pope Benedict announced that he was going to stand down. The Catholic Church has a clear process for selecting the next pope. Does your organization have in place a process should your top leader suddenly be unable to continue in his/her role? When it happens, the board needs to act decisively to name an interim leader, quickly launch a search, and communicate with confidence that the right steps are underway. You don’t want to have to think it through during what is often an emotional and confusing time for management, employees, investors, and the community.
Having spent most of last week in Rhode Island and Boston last week, I cut short my planned activities Friday morning to avoid the storm. That was a preventive action. It so happens that today a back-up generator ordered months ago will be installed at home. That’s a contingent action. Strategic plans and their implementations must be ready for preventive and contingent actions as well as adaptive and corrective actions. You simply cannot ‘hardwire’ a plan in today’s world—and there are penalties for trying.
The doctor appointment was for 3:30. I was still waiting at 5:00.
They said the truck would be ready in an hour. An hour later the truck hadn’t gone in the shop yet.
The wait for blood work at the local hospital was more than one hour.
A call to the satellite internet service requires 15-25 minutes on hold before a “representative who is helping other callers” is available.
And on and on. These are all examples of organizational processes that are set up to benefit the organization – not the customer. And they are all examples of an organization that is not aligned with a customer-focused strategy.