I work with a wide variety of high performance organizations across a broad spectrum of industries and the common challenge is not the development of strategy but the execution of strategy. When strategy does not get executed a couple of times the most common action is to restructure the organization – to little or no avail.
Doing this is costly and time wasting and to me is the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic! The problem is principally not a flaw of the structure of the organization, but of what is going on within the business. High performance organizations understand this.
When this issue is highlighted my focus is always on questions that are around how decisions are made, what the culture is, how people work together, how people behave, what are the motivating factors and what matters most in the eyes of the organization.
I can honestly say that my experience, which is supported by numerous pieces of research, is that what gets in the way of strategy being executed includes lack of common understanding of the strategy and what it means to the business, lack of alignment at the top, poor communication among the top team and lack of trust.
As an Executive Coach an exercise I undertake at workshops with many top teams to check if there is a common understanding of the strategy is to ask each of them, without reference to each other or any documents, to write on a large Post It the 4 key elements of the organizations strategy. Once completed I put them all up on the wall to check what everyone has written. The results are staggering – there is always huge divergence, and it is always a huge surprise to the team. It is breathtaking to see how there are so many different views of the strategy even though if you asked them upfront if they were aligned on the strategy, they would all nod their heads! Trust me this happens in high performance organizations. Try it in your business.
4 questions high performance organizations ask to ensure successful execution:
Without prompting would the top team articulate the same 4 key elements of our strategy? Just make sure that everyone is on the same page. If the top team is not fully aligned you have no chance of executing the strategy or of continuing to be one of the high performance organizations.
Are we using the same language? This is really important in order to cascade the message down throughout the business. If the language is different every time it is discussed the message gets diluted.
Is the top team living and breathing it? If the behavior of the top team is not entirely consistent with the strategy and the underlying values and principles, then the business does not believe that they are serious.
Do we understand the behavioral changes that are necessary to execute the strategy? If we get all the processes and structures in place and do not change the behavior, then nothing will change in the long term.
High performance organizations pay attention to these questions and deliver peak performance when executing strategy.