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Remember What They Said in Keokuk?

When I speak to executives about what constitutes effective strategy execution, they very often emphasize the importance of ‘communication’ and ‘output’ . If ‘they’ could only master the art of communicating the new corporate strategy, employee alignment would be guaranteed and resistance overcome, and we’d all live in a magical rainbow city riding gilded unicorns. Let’s live in the real world for a moment.

Of course, having a clear and consistent message is essential. However, within organizational culture there are powerful, unspoken messages that emphatically contradict ‘the official’ rhetoric. “One day, he says it’s blue and the next day, he say’s it’s green,” or some derivative is what I commonly hear when we have roundtable discussions regarding executive communication. Yes, true enough, communication is what separated us from the dinosaurs and so often missed is the interpretation of the message. Why do you think there’s so many religions? Because of how many interpretations exist of one law. And, you wonder how on earth can we not get our collective shit together at work…or, at home.

An exercise I conduct in every workshop is the “bunny-test.” Let’s go around the room of 12-15 people and ask them what’s the very first thing that comes to your mind when the word ‘bunny’ is said:

…fluffy, soft, Easter, eggs, candy, rodent, dinner, eww gross, furry, cute, and so on…

In the simplest of exercises, here are 10 distinctly different answers and expressions, and you wonder why we can’t communicate on jus a few things. So many elements, values and norms are behind these answers of fact, perceptions and misconceptions of one simgle word. How then, do you think, we’re going to move forward when we lack the understanding of motive, intent and fact? Scroll forward to Strategic Planning or Implementation and Execution and we see the cold, hard facts come to life.

The financial losses implied by statistics like these are massive, and corporate leaders have taken notice. Today’s senior leaders realize implementation is more than half of the leadership challenge when it comes to improving performance via strategic change. Too frequently, however, they seek solutions in the wrong place. With the statistical data and highly-educated, successful executives across the global business landscape KNOWING the data, how the hell do you still fail?

Let’s take it a step further beyond ego and simply say what the Captain famously said in, Cool Hand Luke, ‘what we have here is a failure to communicate.’ And, without a doubt, ‘some men you just can’t reach.’ The pretense of this article is to give you 5 simple, powerful and practical solutions to overcome the failure to execute effectively. But, for those of you lying face down in the dirt, I’m adding the 7 levels of communication as a framework for you to re-energize and rejuevnate the Elegant Leader you may have left in the closet or wherever the hell you left it.

  • No Trust, Mistrust and No Sharing  – what are you, 12? Seriously, what are they going to do with the information? When it’s useful and timely information that frankly they need to contribute and perform at or above their potential, work gets done! Outcomes occur, results happen! This ‘politics first mentality that prizes appearance management above action is bullshit. It causes a situation where no one wants to be the bearer of bad news for fear of getting shot, beheaded or both (figurativey I hope).

Microsoft and Volkswagen are two that come to mind when problems came to leaders’ attention only when it was too late. Strategic alignment is further hindered by information-hoarding among players who see their colleagues as competitors. What’s the answer? SOLUTION: Tie your strategic plan together with strategic change.

  • No or Poor Willingness to Evolve – Effortful change, even when it’s obviously beneficial, is easy to profess, difficult to do. For this reason, it’s why change is evolutionary (and yes, both meanings of the word fit here – take note). Leaders must demonstrate and Be the Message in their own willingness and ability to change before asking it of others. The Top Leader Always goes first! If and when they don’t NOTHING will change period. If you don’t, won’t or can’t change, then save your money and don’t invest in any development efforts – please! SOLUTION: Finally, commit to it this time making a difference in the people you’re in charge of. After all, they’re the ones making it happen based on your leadership.

  • You’re All Hat and No Cattle For most of you city folk, here’s the definition: more talk than action, and then misaligned action. Communication for intellectual understanding does not elicit emotional engagement to implement the new strategy. That means, stop aggrandizing your eloquence – say what you mean and mean what you say. Tell ‘them’ the truth!

Once your employees feel, sense and then believe they can trust you, then they will listen to your inspirational soliloquy. When leaders fail to inspire the majority of the population n toward a common goal, each team will tend to move off in its own comfortable and safest direction. You realize then it’s to integrate all the silos. SOLUTION: Step up and lead – by your actions and less by your words!

  • Mastery of Bad Habits – When you or I or anyone of us face stress and performance pressure, employees become creatures of habit rather than taking risks to become innovative. We all revert back to the behaviors and habits we’ve mastered. Not, the ones we’ve been developing and training to get better on, but mastered. SOLUTION: Commit to seeing it through. If you’re not committed to leading from cradle-to-grave, then find another role you’re more suited for…for the other 6 conditions for successful change, go here.

  • Complacency– Confronted with the potential effort and risk of strategic change, the organization as a whole believes the status quo is safer, good enough, so why do the hard work to change it? Because, no one’s holding me accountable anyway? If you’re not the Chief Cheerleader, then find someone(s) who can be the mouthpiece or megaphone for you. SOLUTION: I’ve found in over 25 years, people are desperate for someone(s) to lead them, to show the way, to have vision and perspective in the ‘messy middle’ of change.

Here are 5 More Soltuions to Overcome Strategic Failures:

Ride the Wave with Rhythm

There will be good things that come from your strategic execution and there will be some failures, things to learn and more things to overcome. An Elegant Leader is someone who keeps the troops inspired and energized even during its darkest moments. They lead wiht rhythm, because they believe in their people. If you expect failure, chances are you’re going to get failure. Encourage, have empathy and develop people as someone(s) developed you along the way.

Work Within Your Capabilities

I’m not advocating to play to compete and not to win – I want to see you win. Everytime! Understand that, under stress (what was said earlier?), we revert to what we’ve mastered. You have two options: elevate your people’s capabilities or play to your average – what can be delivered consistently. Yes, this means we may have flashes of brilliance and we may have flashes where we’re dreadful. Learn, teach, coach ‘them’ how to take one more step forward at being better together. This step is where feedback is critical – copy and coach consistently (part of the 7 Conditions of Change). Incremental improvement of your people’s DNA (dynamic natural ability) is what we’re after here.

Play to Your Average

It’s critical, vital and necessary to understand how to perform under stress. When the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same, then you will perform the change successfully. Coach the team so it’s a ‘want-to’ not a ‘have-to’. If you want flawless execution, then demand it of yourself first, then your leadership team and then when you’ve earned the right to advance, only then will you be demonstrating how-to move your average farther faster.

Differentiate Capabilities 

The primary way to deliver value to your customers is to differentiate your capabilities. What’s preventing ‘them’ from taking the initiative and moving your organization forward? Enhancing a capability is a learning outcome. Meaning people have the capability to perform in some manner. It does not mean they will! A performance outcome occurs when people take what they know and turn it into what they DO on the job. And, of course, making the conversion from learning to doing requires a work environment that supports the capability that was developed. It takes REPS! Give them the opportunity for more reps without bringing down the hammer when they screw up. When you put a good employee against a bad system, the system will win every time.

Be Great at One Thing

You’re not best in class in everything!  Focus on what matters most and ask the questions: where and to whom? Being great at one thing may incur higher fixed costs, create scale by rallying everything around that greatest strength or capability that sets you apart of your competition as your engine for growth. Do you need to be great internally? To your customers? To your BOD? Who? And then, answer Why?

When your organization is mastering being great at one thing, then you’re 3X more likely to grow faster than your industry, and nearly 3X more profitable than the market. Source:  McKinsey & Co., 2017

The most powerful growth engines are made up of a handful of capabilities providing real differentiation in the market.

At Brookestone, we help you achieve sustainable success by growing in a way that fits your capabilities system and value proposition. Our non-invasive approach yields high ROI outcomes with stronger interpersonal relationships across your organziation regardless of geographical boundaries. Our proven-in-the-field methodology on average delivers a minimum 5X ROI. You have small windows of opportunity you must capitalize on and time is of the essence in many cases before they close. You can hope things change or make things change. Consider inviting us to share our proven methodology with you, simply click here for a no obligation, no sales pitch conversation. Here are the 7 Levels of Communication I promised. Put them into action, or contact me and I’ll jump start the process for you.

 

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