One of the most striking features of my interactions with companies all over the world is the lack of performance from many teams. Of course, some teams excel and do their respective organisations proud, constantly producing great results and moving their companies forward. Many teams, however, even with bright and industrious team members, don’t seem to adequately fulfil their respective parts of their companies’ strategies and deliver mediocre results at best. These teams are not well respected amongst peers and seem to play no tangible part in building excellence into the brand.

Over the past two decades, much research has been done with thousands of organisations – asking questions, listening, gathering and analysing data using modern research tools (among those who have participated in this research are Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, FranklinCovey and many more). The research jointly points to the following:

  • Organisational failure is primarily caused by the inability to execute – a lack of clarity on key goals, vague indicators of success and low levels of accountability
  • 60% of front-line employees and 40% of senior managers don’t understand the strategic direction of their companies
  • Ineffective management of time individually and organisationally – focus on the less important activities
  • Distant leadership – lack of daily involvement (not micro-management, but asking the right questions)

There seem to be four main reasons why execution falters:

  • Employees don’t live the goal – only 15% of employees worldwide actually know their organisation’s most important goals
  • Employees don’t know how to achieve the goals – knowing the goal is quite different to knowing how to achieve it. Roles need to be clarified and desired behaviours reinforced if goals are to be achieved
  • Employees are unaware of whether the organisation is winning or not – they don’t know “the score” or what the key measures of success are
  • Employees aren’t held accountable for the goals – frequent progress discussions should be facilitated to keep everyone on track

As a result of these crucial breakdowns in execution, employees and managers are bowled over by the whirlwind of business activities and imperatives, trying hard to contribute and make a difference, while the most important organisational/team priorities get lost in a storm of demands that ultimately count for little. Ram Charan’s “execution gap” talks to the gap between what a company’s leaders want to achieve and the ability of their organisation to achieve it. Many don’t have this ability.

To close the execution gap, as defined above, the following pointers should be considered:

  • Constructing and quantifying a compelling case for change – discussions should be facilitated with each team in the organisation to illustrate how ongoing current behaviour will miss the desired result – the pain of the execution gap needs to be “felt”
  • Identifying and understanding the goals according to priority – the same should be translated into a specific team context (what does it look like for our team when we get this right?)
  • Determining how the goals should be achieved and the respective role that each individual needs to play – role clarification is critical if employees are to know their respective accountabilities
  • Identifying role-related activities and desired behaviours – what activities should we be focusing on to be able to achieve good results?
  • Displaying real-time indicators to “keep the score” – dashboards need to be created, rules of the game agreed on and measurements spelled out
  • Accountability systems need to be instituted – employees should be held accountable daily for their focus, activities and energy

Dr Stephen R Covey noted: “Only those organisations that are principle-centred and truly understand how to focus and empower their workforce to execute against top priorities will succeed in sustaining greatness”. An unrelenting focus on disciplined execution is needed if teams are to perform sustainably and organisations are to achieve their highest priorities.

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