Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Recently I was invited to facilitate a Quarterly Planning session for a mid-size professional services firm. The firm is well established and regarded as an expert in their niche. The leadership team is full of very smart, passionate people.
They have a nicely crafted strategy, with clear core purpose, core values which the team is very motived and aligned on. Their long-term goal is big and audacious.
But the business is underperforming.
It reminded me that you can have the world’s best talent and team, the world’s best strategy and brand, but if you can’t translate strategy to execution, how can you expect to grow or scale?
Execution requires focus and discipline
Here’s five things you can do to find the gaps and make the corrections you need to improve performance.
#1 Review strategy
You may have set your strategy, one, two or even six years ago. But that doesn’t mean the world around you aren’t changing. Take the time to review recent Trends in your business that may be affecting your market today, like new competitors, or looming recession. They may have not been there when you set your strategy.
Is the strategy truly ALIVE? How well are you living up to your core values, your purpose, your brand promises every day?
#2 Know your ‘Main Thing’
Ask every member of your leadership team, “what’s the one main thing the business needs to focus on this quarter or this year?” and you don’t hear an overwhelming consistent answer, chances are remote you will achieve it.
Steven Covey famously wrote that one of the most difficult things for leadership teams to do is to keep the main thing – the main thing. Leadership teams should doggedly focus on their “main thing” whether it’s launch on a new platform, or double down on cashflow, it needs to be decided, aligned and frequently monitored and discussed by leadership. Ask Mark Zucherberg, who famously steered Facebook through both an IPO while going Mobile in the same period what the main thing was? Well now 86% of Facebook users are mobile. Read more on Facebook's main thing story here.
What’s the one main thing the business needs to focus on this quarter or this year?
#3 Agree what’s not a Priority, and what is.
We all accept intellectually that we can’t do everything. Putting it into practice is another matter.
There are many paths to growth. And choices sometimes seem overwhelming. But if we try to do them all and at once, we are going to end up with a very confused organization that’s not likely to perform. Time to make some decisions about the 3 to 5 priorities for your company this period. Create a long list of all the different actions you could take to speed you up and holding you back from achieving your goals or your ‘main thing’. Add to the list any new ideas you have to achieve your 'main thing'.
Then (and here's the difficult part) accept you won’t be able to do it all and prioritise them on a two-dimensional chart by impact and urgency. Choose to focus on 3-5 of the high-impact activities. Bench the rest for another quarter or year.
Choose to focus only on high-impact activities.
#4 Make people accountable
This sounds obvious but how many meetings have you attended, had a great discussion and left not knowing who was going to do what by when? If we want to deliver on our priorities and keep our main thing, our main thing, we need to have a name behind each priority. This doesn’t mean that person is responsible for all steps and actions required to deliver the priority. Break down each priority into the smaller actions or steps and put names of those responsible. Be specific as possible about the outcome you are seeking to achieve. Add delivery dates and monitor weekly, discussing only those actions “at risk” of not being done on time and as expected.
#5 Tell your organization (tell them again, and again, and again)
We may have the right people in the right roles, but how likely they going to be doing the right things if we are not clear on what the those right things are?
Unfortunately, as leaders we sometimes need to act like the old broken record player when it comes to communicating our ‘main thing’ and outcomes. People need to hear thing 4,5,6 times to get the message entirely.
What gets done, gets measured and is frequently discussed in clear and specific language.
For example – “The main thing we want you to focus on increasing sales” Great! So your people can increase sales by selling lots of small deals that take a long time and a lot of resources to deliver and are ultimately unprofitable, leaving no time for anything else. Be clear and specific about the outcome. “The main thing is to focus on positive cashflow. Based on our current pipeline and past conversion results, we believe we need 10 new proposals at a value of at least $50,000 within the next month. If our closure rate is maintained at 75% within the next quarter, we will achieve our goal.”
The good news is Executional issues are easily resolved with organisational processes and rhythms that promote focus and discipline.
Discipline is not necessarily every leaders' favourite past-time. If you find focus and discipline can use some improvement in your organisation, talk to us about kicking off a Quarterly Priorities setting session and learning some of the Scaling Up Execution methods and habits that help so many start-ups and mid-size companies to scale up.