I often relay to teams with whom we have done planning that a well-executed, sub-optimal strategic plan will outperform an optimal plan that is not executed well. There is a good deal of research that supports this assertion.
I make this point because if a team is not committed to be different themselves, then the brilliance of their strategy will not get them there. Why? In my experience, it is execution and not strategy that befalls most teams. In short, if you want a different result, you are going to have to be different.
- Want better customer service? It’s not about the tools, but the attitude.
- Want to be more innovative? Get out of the way of new ideas that bubble up from those closest to your customers. Don’t be threatened because someone believes the strategy you developed is not a winner for the future.
- Want to accelerate performance? Be more demanding of your people. Raise the level of accountability for results beginning with yourself.
- Want better management? Begin by managing yourself and being a model of performance and productivity. Review all of the agreements you have made in the recent past and your performance on them.
- Want to raise morale? Examine whether as CEO or a member of a management team you have acted in integrity with your professed values and your stated policies. If your actions aren’t congruent with what you have professed, you won’t be followed to higher performance. Rather, you will be met with cynicism.
An internal assessment is key
The strategic agenda, or set of initiatives in a strategic plan, is a combination of initiatives to grow the business or enhance services to clients and initiatives to improve performance. To identify priority initiatives to improve performance, reach into your organization and ask for ideas on how operations can be bettered.
I recently completed a strategic plan for a large hospital and ambulatory care operation. I encouraged management to cast a wide net to find ideas for improvement. They did so, inviting ideas from employees in all of their departments. Over 200 ideas were submitted.
After grouping the 200 candidates, we completed a systems analysis of the ideas, and the causal factors pointed back to a lack of leadership. It’s a hard message for leadership teams to hear and take responsibility for. In my experience, the teams that do so are the ones that have the best shot at making meaningful improvements in performance.
The journey to become different
Taking responsibility to be different is a critical first step, but only the beginning of the journey. Like trying to lose weight or quit smoking, our old habits die hard. Each member of your team will have good days and bad, i.e. times when they slip back into old habits.
How to get there? Commit to a new set of norms for the team; items like coming to meetings on time, meeting all your commitments to one another, being more proactive in communicating to those that report to you etc. Then, be steadfast in holding one another to those commitments. In short, you have to insist that each member be different. It will be a struggle for some and there may be casualties.
It is challenging to hold a colleague of long standing to a new standard. You will hear “well who are you to judge me” or “what has gotten into you”, all in an effort to avoid accountability for what the team has committed to. And, you can’t hold someone else accountable for what you have not done yourself. That is why in coaching executives I stress the need for them set the example for what they want others to be doing.
The keys to getting your team there:
- Document the new commitments you want from your team members to get to better performance.
- Monitor to be sure that members are not withholding honest communication with one another. Call one another on body language that speaks loudly, but goes unspoken. Get to the truth.
- Insist that the first loyalty of each team member is to the goals of the organization and not to the group they represent.
- Track performance on agreements for action between members and insist on improvements.
For more on how to become different and thereby improve the performance of teams, I would recommend Patrick Lencioni’s, The Five Dysfunctions of Teams. A great read.
As human beings, it’s always easiest to focus on the externalities. Something or someone out there explains why we don’t get where we want. Well, it may be, but in any case, it is our response to that externality that gives it power over us and keeps it and us in place. The road out of whatever condition we are in must begin with ourselves. In short, the highest return on investment of time/energy/outside help will come from focusing on how to improve your leadership team, for it can make all else possible.
If you are interested in learning about how to be different through better leadership and propel your organization forward, contact us for a free consultation with Bill via phone, e-mail or over lunch!