Fundamentals of great organizational execution
Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 11, Issue No. 7
By Dan Coughlin
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Establishing a strategy, which is about determining the nature and direction of your business, determining your next innovative product/service, which is about providing appropriate value for your customers, and deciding on your desired brand, which is about identifying the value you want to be known for delivering to your customers, are all important activities.
However, none of them produce anything without effective execution throughout your organization. This article is about how to get things done well as an organization.
Clarify who is going to do what when and why that needs to happen.
You are in charge of a group of people and you have the responsibility to achieve certain results. You have decided, or someone else has decided for you, on the type of business you are in and the general direction you want the business to move in. You, or someone else, has decided on which products and services to continue to offer and which innovations need to be introduced into the marketplace. Now you and the other members of your organization need to execute.
Write down a list of the names of every employee you have. If you have too many employees to do that effectively, write down the name of the group or department or function that represents large numbers of these people. Their manager can break down these groups into individual names and responsibilities later on.
Now answer this question, “Who is going to do what when and why is that going to happen?” Write down your answer so you can see it, especially the part about why it is going to happen. Make sure every employee, or group of employees, has a clear role. On a piece of paper, write down the responsibilities for each role and put the name of the employee or employees next to the role. Step back and look at what responsibilities you have assigned to people. On a calendar, write down a draft of when the various activities need to happen.
Now look at these two documents you’ve just created. Think about why you have placed the individuals and groups in these roles and on this timeline. Does it make sense to you? Do you believe this approach will help you to achieve the desired objectives? Is it clear why you want these things done and in this order? If it’s not clear to you, it definitely won’t be clear to other people.
Keep thinking through the responsibilities and the timeline by asking yourself, “Are these the key items for us to focus on, do I have the right people working on them, and is this the right order to do them in?” Keep making adjustments until you feel you have your plan as strong as you can make it. Make sure everyone in your organization has a clear role that you will be able to explain. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to work with a few other key executives or managers to hear their insights and concerns before you finalize your plan.
Communicate clearly, calmly, conversationally, and consistently.
Once you’ve decided who is responsible for doing certain functions and the order in which those functions need to happen and you know why you want it done this way, your next job in executing effectively is communication.
As a business leader, most of your job includes your ability to communicate with other people. By far and away, the single biggest complaint about senior executives that I have heard is “poor communication.” When you explain the plan for execution, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind.
When you’re done talking did the other person or the other people understand what you said? One way to find out is to ask, “Please state in your own words what you heard me say?” If their remarks don’t match yours, don’t blame them by saying, “You’re not listening.” Instead say, “Okay, I realize I need to say that more clearly because that’s not what I meant.” Then explain your thoughts again with greater clarity. If a person doesn’t understand his or her role or doesn’t understand someone else’s role, then keep the discussion going. The main goal is that people understand what is being communicated. They may not agree with it, but they have to understand it.
If you get overly intense, the other person will not hear your message because they will be tuned into, or turned off by, your expressions and the tone of your voice. If you stay calm, then the other person can focus on what it is you’re saying rather than on how you’re saying it.
Just talk the way you normally talk in a conversation. If you take on a different persona or a different tone or a different vocabulary when you communicate with other people, they are going to wonder why you’re not just being yourself.
If one day you say you are all about customer service and the next day you say that your number one priority is bottom-line profit on every sale, you will confuse people. If you yell one day and whisper the next, people will wonder what’s going on. Just be yourself on a consistent basis and give clear input in a conversationally calm manner.
Provide freedom in executing tactics.
Once you’ve clarified who is going to do what when and why that is going to happen, then you have be okay with stepping out of the way. This is very important. Making decisions and communicating your decisions is very important in the planning process. However, if you don’t give people the freedom to decide how to do their responsibilities, then you will be seen as a micromanager and a controlling boss.
There may have been a time when employees were okay with bosses telling them what to do every minute of the day. I would say that time passed many years ago. The best plans are ruined by micromanagers. You need to give the people you’ve hired the room to make decisions about how to execute their tasks. It may not be the way you did it, and it may turn out even better than what you would have done.
Implement, evaluate, and adjust.
Of course, once you set the wheels-of-execution in motion, you aren’t permanently removed from the work. Periodically you need to evaluate both the performances and the results. Are the various employees implementing the responsibilities they were given in the order you decided on? In other words, are they following the plan? Are they getting the results that you had hoped to achieve through executing the plan?
This is not micromanaging. You are trying to determine if the plan is being followed and if the results are being achieved. You might find that the plan is not being executed properly, which might mean you will need to get various people back on the original tracks. On the other hand, you might find that the original plan needs to be adjusted. You can only determine this by evaluating individual and team performances and keeping a close eye on the results that are produced.
Hold individuals and groups accountable with positive and negative consequences.
As the leader of the group or organization, you want to reinforce desired behaviors and change undesired behaviors. When you see people executing the plan with excellence and producing great results, provide them with positive consequences. Those can range from a pat on the back to public praise to bonuses and increased compensation. When you see people doing a poor job of executing the plan or producing poor results provide them with negative consequences. Those can range from a private conversation to a formal write-up to reduced compensation to letting the person go.
Keep in mind that the rationale for providing consequences is to affect habits. You’re not just trying to rectify a situation one time. You’re trying to influence how the person thinks about his or her approach to the work and how he or she will consistently act in the future.
Continually re-clarify who is doing what when and why that is happening.
It is important to clarify on a consistent basis who is doing what when and why that is happening. It’s very easy for roles to get blurred and people to get confused. Then you add in retirements and new hires and promotions and suddenly what once was clear is no longer clear. At least twice every year bring your team together and communicate who has what role. It may feel like you’re overdoing it, but the reality is there will be some people out there in your organization who are confused about roles and responsibilities. Then feelings get hurt and drama rises and time gets wasted and productivity goes down and execution is hurt.
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