“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.” — Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m direct – I say what I mean, and mean what I say. It can get me into trouble sometimes, however most people appreciate my candor as it cuts to the chase and they know exactly where I stand. I don’t play mind games.
In my work – for as long as I can remember – I’ve cut to the chase there too. I have no time for “busy work” or “process for the sake of process”. I tend to quickly cut through the noise to get to the heart of whatever it is we are doing. By focusing on required outcomes and results, we can carve a straighter path to get there, and reap the rewards sooner. It’s often easy to apply this approach for my clients – however like everyone else, I can get in my own way in my own business. It is easy to get dragged into “I have 50 things that I must get done today” and stay so busy, hopping from call to call, or grabbing a few focus minutes in between calls, that the day flies by and you are left asking yourself if you actually achieved anything that really moved the needle.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on my company OKRs for 2022 (if you missed the earlier newsletter on this, you can find it here). When I saw the details laid out, I realized that there were way too many “priorities”. I forced myself to whittle the list down to what was really important for right now and marked a top #1 priority. When I jotted down my plan for this week, I evaluated it against my #1 priority and realized that 99.99% of what was on my list wasn’t going to move my top priority forward. This is when it starts to get uncomfortable. I have to simply say “no” to the majority of my important initiatives right now, in order to give my #1 priority the focus it needs. Otherwise, why bother with the planning exercise in the first place?
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” ― Steve Jobs
I can easily get on a soapbox when I talk about strategy execution – you might have read some of my earlier articles about the strategy and execution gap and what I call “duct tape leadership” – when short-term thinking and duct tape problem patching becomes a long-term strategy. I try to look at the whole picture from the perspective of both the executive leadership team and the teams on the ground executing the work as I often find myself being a liaison between both parties while bridging the strategy execution gap.
Many clients that I work with have been working in a very short term reactive mode for some time, however the last couple of years have really solidified that approach. It is one thing to be nimble and agile in pivoting to meet the demands or changes in the market, however it is another to be running constantly on a hamster-wheel of busyness that never stops and isn’t actually going anywhere.
We have all read the stories of burn-out and the great resignation that has resulted from that approach, so we know that the short term reactive approach isn’t a viable long term strategy. When executive and delivery teams are out of synch or disconnected, and teams are overwhelmed with busy work that doesn’t provide any sense of accomplishment, this lowers productivity, morale, and creates a vicious burnout cycle. Constant interruptions and distractions result in churn, and lack of progress results in feelings of shame and lowers self-worth. It can start to feel impossible – despite working harder, longer hours, or even intentionally focusing, you still feel like you are sinking rather than swimming. In this type of environment, people are not thriving, they are simply trying to survive.
We are happiest at work when we feel a sense of accomplishment, know that the work we are doing daily is directly impacting our organization’s mission, and feel connected to our team and management. Accomplishment encourages and motivates us. We feel more creative, take more pride in our work delivering quality outcomes. When our daily work is aligned with the company mission and objectives, we can appreciate the value in what we do, and are connected to a higher purpose. Celebrating wins and accomplishments as one team, executives and team members, helps develop relationships that sustain the team through challenges.
If you read my earlier article on the Strategy-Execution gap, you know the statistics:
- According to HBR, 95% of employees are unaware of, or do not understand their company’s strategy
- CEOs and the senior management team do not know what the majority of employees are working on any given day
- Gartner says that 40% of executive leaders say that their enterprise leadership is not aligned, 67% of key functions are not aligned with business units and corporate strategies, 83% of strategies can fail due to faulty assumptions and 67% of employees do not understand their role when new growth initiatives are launched.
- Cost of lost productivity is approximately $1.8 billion according to Finance Online
- low engagement costs US companies $350 billion in revenue every year according to 15 Five
- Gallup reports that only 15% of employees across the world are actively engaged in their job.
What a waste of dollars, time and effort. Isn’t it time to take a different approach?
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” —Henry David Thoreau
𝗕𝗼𝗹𝗱 𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗱𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗵𝗶𝗽 𝗶𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗾𝘂𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗰𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗶𝘁𝘂𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗶𝘁 𝗶𝘀, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗲𝗲𝗸 𝘁𝗼 𝗺𝗼𝘃𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝘄𝗮𝗿𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝗮 𝗱𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝘄𝗮𝘆.
It doesn’t require weeks of strategizing.
It doesn’t require pulling all of your teams off their current work to go “off site” (or “onsite” either…)
It does require your executive leaders to be aligned to your strategy and top priority, so that they can then rally their team around the right priorities for right now. And when we say “right now” we don’t mean that you change those priorities daily or even weekly. Be ready to say “no” to busy work to stop the churn and wasted effort. Take the time to bring your executive and delivery teams together to create a culture of “one team” – aligned, cohesive and collaborating on your top priority.
Adopt this 🅵🅰🆂🆃 framework to accelerate your outcomes:
🅵 – 𝗙𝗢𝗖𝗨𝗦
- Step back to look at your current strategy, goals & objectives
- Identify the top 3 priorities for the upcoming year and next quarter
- Clearly identify the outcomes required for each top priority
- Note the opportunity cost of not achieving those outcomes
🅰 – 𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗚𝗡
- Make note of what your team is currently working on – all of it!
- Align all of the current work in progress to strategic objectives
- Identify what is or is not aligned with the top 3 priorities
- Determine the impact of stopping work in progress that is not aligned with those priorities and formulate an action plan to reduce or pause that work
🆂 – 𝗦𝗣𝗥𝗜𝗡𝗧
- Review the work required for the top priorities and ensure that this work will actually achieve the required outcomes
- Assess the team and resource availability and capabilities to determine if changes or additional resources are needed
- Outline a prioritized sprint plan to achieve the most valuable outcomes for the priorities
- Understand the team’s constraints and limitations and add support to guide the team
- Establish the sprint team and cadence to move forward incrementally
- Start to sprint through executing the most important work, building momentum
- Build in planning and retrospectives along the way to refine the approach
🆃 – 𝗧𝗥𝗔𝗡𝗦𝗙𝗢𝗥𝗠
- When the sprint plan is outlined, begin to engage the stakeholders so they will be ready to adopt the change
- Deliver quality outcomes — along with that feeling of accomplishment for the team
- Support the stakeholders to embrace and adopt the change so they transform how they work
- Celebrate together as one team as the outcomes from each sprint are delivered
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗺𝘀 𝘄𝗵𝗼 𝗶𝗻𝘃𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗱𝗼𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀, 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝘆𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗯𝗲 𝘀𝘂𝗯𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗮𝗹.
You will boost your outcomes, propel your mission forward, elevate your team’s energy and performance, and create a culture that your team will not want to leave (reducing the cost of attrition!) This framework can be applied quickly at the team, program/department level or for an organization. Start with most at-risk/at-stake teams or initiatives and expand from there.
Finally, consider bringing in someone from outside your team to help facilitate this accelerator – an outsider has a broader perspective, doesn’t have history or baggage and isn’t vested with any of your priorities. This helps them to remain objective, guiding your teams rather than becoming mired in the weeds or politics. They will help you clarify, focus, bring your team together, and then accelerate your outcomes.
In today’s “great resignation” climate, investing in a consultant to partner with your team to help guide this process, can also signal your appreciation for your team’s effort and show that you have listened to their feedback. It displays an awareness of how you need to change as an organization, and a willingness to do what it takes to take care of your team and organization. (I recently wrote a blog on how leaders can personify “empathy in action” with some additional tips – you can find it here).
Consider the opportunity cost of continuing along the same approach that may not be working for you, the cost of losing your team through attrition, and the cost of lowered productivity.
𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗹𝗼𝘀𝗲? 𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗮𝗶𝗻?
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. —Albert Einstein
I hope these insights inspired you to take action. We’d love to help you align your strategy and execution – if you’d like to chat about how we can help you quickly accelerate your outcomes and results, send me a message so we can book a time to talk about your situation, identify your current barriers and outline a plan to overcome those so you can sprint ahead in 2022.