“Getting Things Done” Deserves Your Respect

Dr. John Townsend

April 22, 2015

Execution, or the capacity to get things done, doesn’t get the respect it deserves in organizational performance.  It’s sexier and more energizing to be disruptive, innovative, and to create a new future, and those activities are critical to sustainability.  But if someone is not making sure that the great ideas become tangible reality, it’s all a pipe dream of wishful thinking, and the organization does not get to where it needs to go.

Being able to execute strategy is one of the competencies we focus on in the Townsend Leadership Program that I discuss in the video below.

Here are some tips to help you respect execution by paying attention to it.

Do the due diligence.  Just after the brainstorming conversation, there needs to be another conversation.  This is the talk about “OK, now how do we actionalize the dream?”  For example, suppose your disruptive idea is that you have decided to improve your company’s  culture because you have seen the research proving that healthy culture significantly accelerates organizational performance.  Culture is a popular and also vague term.  Many companies get excited about it, and have a few team meetings about communication and positivity, and have social get-togethers to rally the troops.  But that is not proper execution.  You need to do some research.  Find out what healthy culture is, and what your company’s health culture should look like.  Web research, books, conversations with HR and colleagues, and talking with consultants will get you the info you need. My point is, don’t go off half-cocked, but take some time to do this first step right.  You’ll save a great deal of time and energy by not having to retrace your decisions.

Set measurable goals.  Every dream has a pot of gold at the end of its rainbow.  What do you want to happen at the end of the disruptive process?  Craft goals which are metric, so that you will know if you’re on track, behind, or ahead of schedule.  If the goal is not metric, you risk people getting discouraged and forgetful, and you wind up one day saying “Remember that cultural thing we talked about last year?  Whatever happened to it?”  For example, some assessment tools break down culture into measurable pieces, and you can use that to take a “before and after” snapshot, the same way you do with your financial KPI’s.

Determine the right behaviors.  After you know what you want your disruptive idea to look like, figure out what behaviors will bring this around. Well-run organizations are driven by values, and are executed by behaviors.  What are the top 5 behaviors that will get you where you want to go?  Staying with the culture example, those might be:

  1. Assign a cultural champion
  2. Budget time and resources for the project
  3. Add cultural aspects to your regularly scheduled team and all-hands meetings
  4. Create new experiences outside of the regular meetings that improve culture
  5. Determine what behaviors you as the leader need to be implementing, to model healthy culture, such as more “walking around” leadership or more vulnerable conversations.

Behavior is behavior, and that means initiating actions.

Make the path.  The strategic plan is the roadmap from dream to goal.  It introduces the concept of a process of time to the dream.  Determine when the end goal is reached: 1,3 and 5 years for example.  Break it up all the way down to weekly goals which support the path.  Make sure everyone is clear, resourced and accountable.  For example, you may want to first announce the new culture initiative, then have input meetings, then act on the ideas from those meetings.

Determine the champion.  Organizations are always busy, with many urgent needs and challenges.  Someone must become the dedicated individual who will champion the execution of the dream.  It’s probably not a full-time task, but this person must have dedication, patience and perseverance to continue the monitoring process for the team. This might be you, or your COO, or just someone who not only believes, but is good at follow through.  In our current example, that might the the head of HR.  But this is the person who lives and breathes the plan, who worries about it, and who brings it up in the conversations.

Keep the process front and center.  In a culture addicted to “new”, the disruptive idea will soon compete with newer and more disruptive ideas.  Don’t let the dream atrophy because of an addiction to bright shiny objects.  Whoever is the champion must continue monitoring, and keeping the plan a priority.

In our example, if you are not the “culture champion” yourself, you need to “champion the champion.”  Keep asking her how things are going and how you can help.  Nothing is more energizing and focusing than a leader who checks in on progress, long after the dream is not the hot new thing.

Respect execution.  It is there to help you get somewhere, but you must put away the whiteboard and get to work on it.

Best to your leadership.

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