SSBG Blog - Execution Problems

Most execution problems are rooted in leadership’s inability to get out of their own way.

Have you ever heard of the “Impossible Task”?

It’s a term you likely won’t find in any business journal, but you may be familiar with it.  It’s very similar to the Law of Diminishing Returns. It actually grew out of a viral Twitter thread earlier in the year and is where seemingly simple tasks — such as responding to an important email — suddenly become impossible to complete for no reason at all.

You have all the tools. You know what needs to be done. You may even be fully aware of the simplicity of it, but you Just. Can’t. Do it.

Certainly, this is a personal dilemma, but how often do businesses find themselves with a similar problem when it comes to execution? You have your strategy, your team, and your map. You know what needs to be done, but you just can’t seem to get out of the strategy phase.

In the recent Harvard Business Review article, Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About It, they found that nearly two-thirds to three-fourths of businesses struggle with execution. On top of that, the HBR has reported findings from a study that showed execution excellence as “the biggest challenge facing corporate leaders” (topping a list of roughly 80 other issues).

So what’s this all about? Why is execution such an impossible task for business?

Root Cause #1 – Too Many Hats

Execution is all about setting priorities, establishing metrics, and communication routines.

Growing your business requires that you wear many hats and execution problems often boil down to one person trying to do everything at once. Whether it’s marketing, sales, finance, customer service, etc., you are doing everything, but, let’s be honest, nothing really well.

The CEO can’t do it all but often feels like they have to do it all because they feel they can’t afford to hire someone to do it or they can’t let go. Many CEO’s we meet have made themselves “indispensable” hanging onto roles someone else could be doing.

These attitudes are a disaster for effective execution and very limiting for business growth. Remember that just about the time you get comfortable with a role, is the same time you need to hire someone to do that role because you become the constraint for growth.

Root Cause #2 – No Meeting Rhythm

Another obstacle is a lack of rhythm in meetings. Pre-set meeting rhythms allow you to progress towards set objectives and provide time for a team to analyse and make mid-course corrections. Without committed meeting times to check on progress, key objectives get sidelined to the more pressing day-to-day challenges.

These problems are connected to leadership issues at the top, with management teams often feeling that they simply don’t have the time to manage progress against set objectives. This results in teams approaching work as a ‘tick box exercise’, rather than focusing on the measurable outcomes of the performance of the business.

When we get a company to start implementing a meeting rhythm of daily and weekly huddles, monthly meetings, quarterly, and annual planning sessions, it’s amazing what a difference it makes. Everyone starts communicating more, obstacles are avoided, bottlenecks dealt with, morale increases and teamwork improves visibly – the end result is increased productivity and efficiency.

Addressing Execution Problems Head On

With these execution causes in mind, what action should a leader take next?

The goal is to move seamlessly from strategy to execution. To achieve this, the answer comes down to basic planning. Your leadership team needs to clarify success measures, skill requirements, and business essentials. Or, to put it simply, take a deep breath and focus on these specific steps.

  • Clarify responsibilities and define accountabilities. Tip – read Leigh Paulden’s Accountability, Responsibility and Authority
  • Get your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meetings in place, and engage your teams with each other. Here’s how you can establish a communication rhythm.
  • Develop trust and the ability to deal with conflict effectively. Read Pat Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
  • Ensure ‘real’ commitment. Break down goals, develop objectives, identify obstacles, determine possible solutions, and identify action steps. Leaders need to ensure that team members have debated potential objectives robustly and have fully committed to achieving the set objectives. Existing team commitments need to be considered to ensure that the team has the capacity to act on new objectives.
  • Focus on results. Measure and regularly report on set objectives that are linked to your business performance.

Remember, when you eliminate common dysfunctions and connect your team regularly with clearly defined objectives, positive peer pressure will kick in to perform, execute, and deliver according to plan.

What We’ve Learned

strLet these problems continue and your whole team will be dealing with “The Impossible Task”, like a possum frozen in headlights, or busily moving deckchairs on the Titanic.

For leaders, what should be more than evident is the critical need for proper planning and delegation, i.e. knowing what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and how they’re going to do it. Take the time to map out your goals, set your priorities, align your team, and draw a path from start to finish with KPI’s for accountability.

If you need some help to get you there – give us a call to get started on your journey to executional excellence.


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