A marriage of planning and execution

A marriage of planning and execution

It is now the second week into January and pretty much everyone has returned or will be returning to work from holidays in the next few days.  Whether you are an individual looking for positive change and professional growth, a business owner or an enterprise executive looking to increase your bottom line, this is a propitious time to take stock of all you have accomplished in 2016, reflect on what is holding you back, generate fresh perspective and re-prioritize your goals in order to start afresh with renewed vigour and a clear mission to prosper in the New Year.

There is no time like now to consolidate on your resolutions for the New Year.
The thing about these grand resolutions is that, year-on-year they are made with little or no evaluation of progress. For some, it has become a habitual ‘feel-good exercise’ to draw this colourful list of profound changes to be made. There’s hardly a reflection of why previous years’ resolutions flopped, if they did. For others, it is a thoughtful process of ensuring that apposite goals are not only set, but followed through to maximize results and impact for themselves and/or organizations. Unless planning is followed with execution, New Year resolutions are nothing more than self-promises.

How many of those promises have you made to yourself over the years only to state the same ones the following year? Self-promises are awesome, and generating them is an easy exercise that does not require much effort, does it? That explains why it’s easy for a person who has never run before resolving to run and finish the Comrades marathon in record time. As we know, following through on the execution of such an ambitions goal is hard, but having a plan without execution is hallucination, if you think about it. Planning without execution almost guarantees failure.

So what held you back from reaching the kind of success you envisioned in the past year? Have you looked at your competitors (as an organization and/or professional) in the pinnacle of performance in your industry?   Have you studied how they got to be on top of their game? Have you tracked the discrepancy between where they are and where you are? Do you have a game plan for 2017? What strategy have you developed to close the gap and ultimately give yourself a competitive edge?

In its basic meaning, strategy is nothing more than a method or plan designed to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.  But it must be followed by execution at all times, otherwise it is worthless. Someone once said, “A good strategy poorly executed will come second to poor strategy well executed”.  I’m reminded of my business strategy course lecturer, who often spoke of the marriage between the “hardware” of strategy (encapsulating your business model, strategic position and resources) and ‘software’ of strategy (implementation, execution and monitoring).

But how do we ensure that strategy and execution stay married?  No matter what your professional or organisational resolutions are this year, answering this question may serve useful in your quest to make 2017 the year for positive change: Now that you have a plan for the year, how do you prioritise your time so you can concentrate your execution on what’s most important?

There is never a shortage of strategy books educating on the importance of strategic planning to achieve success. By comparison, there are, however, very few books on the how to execute it. Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling in their book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, offer four direct disciplines to follow in order to improve execution success.
According to the authors, there are two fundamental reasons that execution is so difficult. The first is that execution often requires people to change their behaviour.  Think about it, how can you achieve goals you’ve never achieved before unless you start doing things differently?

Secondly, it’s even harder to implement these changes in the midst of urgent priorities (what the authors refer to as whirlwind). Together, these challenges can derail even the best leaders from achieving their goals. So many entrepreneurs, professionals and organizations focus on the idea but don’t end up executing.  So, it is helpful that these authors offer a simple, repeatable, and proven formula for executing on your most important strategic priorities in the midst of the whirlwind.  These disciplines find resonance both in organizations as well as individuals looking to execute on their goals.

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important
This is the discipline of focus. These are the goals that make all the difference. There should be no more than one to three goals set by the same team or individual.
Half a dozen goals are difficult to focus on. Narrow your goals to focus on those that make a difference; the wildly important ones.  Masters of execution can attest to the fact that extraordinary results can only be achieved when you are clear about what matters most. As simple as this principle may sound, few people ever master it.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures
This is the discipline of leverage. With unlimited time and resources, anything can be accomplished.  Unfortunately, the challenge is usually the opposite: accomplish more with less. This requires a focus on leading outcomes or behaviours, rather than overall results.
Acting on the lead measures is the key to execution. It’s predictive and influenceable measures, not the lag measures that count — even though your lag measure is easier to identify and measure.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
This is the discipline of engagement. Without the scoreboard, it will not take people long to forget the goals.  So, it has to be visible to the “players”, so they can see how it affects them and remind them that they have to influence it. If these are your individual goals, the scorecard still helps you visualise your progress and keep you on track. It also gives a reminder of whether they are winning or losing. Sean Covey and co-authors once blogged “The highest level of performance always comes from people who are emotionally engaged and the highest level of engagement comes from knowing the score — that is, if people know whether they are winning or losing. It’s that simple.”  You want more than authority to make things happen (which you have); you want the performance produced through passion and engagement.

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
The fourth discipline is the discipline of accountability, and accountability is game. This is where the real execution takes place; where a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings takes place (ideally last no more than a few minutes).  Ultimately, this is the most crucial discipline of execution. It is the discipline where the actual “game” is played.  Do remember though, discipline four can only happen because the first three disciplines set up a winnable game.

Happy 2017! May your success reach new heights in the New Year!

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