Duct Tape Leadership: Bridging the Gap Between Execution and Strategy (Part 1)

We tend to believe that the relationship between strategy and execution looks something like this: a clean, clear path building to inevitable success.

Strategy Execution Success text in the shape of a staircase on white background. Business concept.

The truth, as always, is messier. Execution is rarely clean-cut and linear. Initiatives get twisted, lost, paused, or derailed, and projects die in the gaps between strategy and execution.

The inevitable gaps between strategy and execution can be patched with short-term measures: quick switch to focus on a “new” priority, holds placed on other necessary work, schedules pushed out, resources “borrowed” from other projects, and pure force of will – “we will get through it!”. 

These “duct tape” solutions can work in the short run —  but they’re often weak, brittle, and prone to unexpected failure.

Far better to build permanent bridges and redundant pathways between strategy and execution, so your team can be successful with every project.

Doing this work isn’t always easy — but it’s well worth the time and effort.  As you strip the duct tape out of your leadership processes, you’ll be able to:

  • ✓  Focus your team on the right work at the right time
  • ✓  Develop support structures and resourcing systems that lead to success
  • ✓  Create productive team environments that produce quality work
  • ✓  Align your team’s work with the organizational strategy

Now is the perfect time to find the duct tape in your systems and make plans for replacing it with stronger, more flexible structures.

Over the next few weeks, we will dive into each element of my 3-step duct tape removal process, starting with…

Assessing Your Current Leadership Environment

The first step to making change is to gain a clear understanding of the current state of affairs.  A 360-degree view of your team’s challenges, limitations, objectives, and opportunities will provide you with insight about the issues affecting team performance and morale.

Block out some uninterrupted time and work through the following process for getting assessing your team’s current environment and performance.  

1. Assess the work your team is doing.  

A lot of time, money, and energy is wasted by inefficient teams that prioritize the wrong things. Is your team focused on the right work?

  • Are you executing the work in a way that is achieving results?
  • Is the team effective?
  • Are the results propelling the organizational mission forward?
  • What are you struggling with currently?
  • What assumptions are you making?

2. Assess and triage current issues.

Think about the last few projects you’ve completed and the recurring issues, complaints, and oversights that you’ve noticed.  What bigger issues do they point to?

  • What bottlenecks do you have?
  • What are your current constraints?
  • What concerns do your staff have?
  • What is the impact of these issues on your clients, stakeholders, revenue, and goals?
  • What is preventing your team from resolving these issues?
  • Where do they need support or assistance?
  • What issues might they be dealing with that are not relevant right now?
  • Are they working on the highest priority issues?

3. Assess current risks.

By now, you should be developing a clearer picture of existing gaps and potential failure points. Next, spend some time evaluating the risks that those gaps and issues present to your team, your projects, and your organization.

  • What risks may affect your organization or project?
  • What risks do you see in getting back to a ”normal” work environment after COVID?
  • What is the likelihood of those risks occurring?
  • If they occur, what might the impact be?
  • How might you manage or mitigate those risks?
  • Whose help might you need to manage those risks?

Your answers to these questions will highlight existing gaps and areas for improvement.  These are the places where you’re most likely to find some “leadership duct tape” holding things together.  And these are also the places where the divide between strategy and execution is likely to cause problems — if it hasn’t already.

Fortunately, knowing is half the battle. Now that you have a better understanding of the risks and challenges your team faces, you’re in a better position to resolve these issues.

In the next post in this series, we’ll cover how to bridge the gaps between strategy and execution in ways that contribute to the strength, flexibility, and resilience of the team and the organization. 

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