In my roles of business owner and C12 Group Chair, I’ve had the opportunity to work on strategic plans and the execution, or lack of execution of those plans in a number of organizations. I’ve noticed three difference makers for an organization that can help move from the lack of execution group to the group that is executing. I can’t claim that these are my ideas, I’m not that smart. Also, as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Nothing under the sun is truly new.”
The three things are:
- Plans are not clear and simple.
- There is a lack of clarity among the leaders in the organization.
- People don’t know how to communicate, especially in difficult conversations.
Let’s take a look at each of these one by one.
Plans are not clear and simple.
Plans tend to be at one end of opposite spectrums, either non-existent or too many pages of unclear goals. Starting from nothing is often easier than backtracking from plans that are overly complex with unclear goals.
“The bigger your company gets, and the faster it’s growing, the harder it is to get everybody on the same page. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t a single page around which to align. Instead, there are likely more than a dozen pages, actual and imaginary, along with memos and emails, each purporting to describe your company’s mission, vision and strategy. Further, many of these messages may be riddled with unclear and even contradictory statements about who your company is, what it does and how.” – Verne Harnish, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”
I’ve settled on a two to three page plan using elements of Harnish’s plan and elements from Jim Horan’s “One Page Business Plan”. My plan template consists of a vision and mission statement, core values listed and described, a brand promise, a short description of the current situation, a short growth vision paragraph, three year goals, one year goals and quarterly goals. The goals should be 3-5 and no more than a sentence or two. They must be SMART; specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time bound (deadlines). Part of the specific description should include the name of the employee who “owns” that goal. It’s important to leave the quarterly goals blank until you are entering the next quarter. For example, when in the first quarter, your goals for the second, third and fourth quarters should be blank. You enter goals into those quarters as you approach them.
There is a lack of clarity among the leaders in the organization.
The management team needs to create this plan together so there is clarity among the team which will need to be communicated to the rest of the organization. The best method is to go off site for a one to two day session. Use a facilitator if you’ve never been through this exercise. Once the plan is finished, it needs to be shared with everyone in the organization as much as is practical. The management team should be meeting weekly, working to execute the plan, checking in on progress with the “owner” of the goals.
If the management team is having difficulty creating the plan due to a lack of clarity among the team, Patrick Lencioni recommends discussing the answer to six critical questions, checking for alignment. If the leadership team is aligned on these six critical questions, then the team can lead the organization more effectively. Here are the six questions:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important, right now?
- Who must do what?
Lencioni describes this at length in his book “The Advantage”. Once the team is aligned on those questions and the plan is agreed on the team must over communicate clarity and reinforce clarity to the rest of the organization. This is one of the biggest challenges today because of the massive amount of information we deal with on a daily basis. John P. Kotter in “Leading Change” drove home this point with these statistics:
Total amount of communication going to an employee in three months = 2,300,000 words or numbers. Typical communication of vision over same period = 13,400 words or characters (one 30 minute speech, one 60 minute meeting, one 600 word article or one 2,000 word memo). Vision communication percentage = 0.58%.
Keeping the message simple and communicating it often, repetitively is key to successfully bringing clarity.
People don’t know how to communicate, especially in difficult conversations.
While working on your plan with your team you will probably run into situations where there is some conflict. Why does that happen? Usually, it’s because there is a misunderstanding of facts or motive and our emotions are kicking in. Our body’s response is to either fight or flee, neither of which are conducive to a good conversation.
An extremely helpful book on how to change that is “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. Here are some of the goals the book offers to help you achieve:
- Prepare for high stakes situations
- Transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue
- Make it safe to talk about almost anything
- Be persuasive, not abrasive
An important concept shared is that everyone involved in the conversation must feel safe. Everyone needs to share all the information that they have in their head, contributing to the “pool of shared meaning”. This is not the time for winners and losers. This book is quite a contrast to the style we see played out on our TV and computer screens on a daily basis. I believe it’s an effective style that can benefit anyone, not just business owners and managers.
If you are leading an organization, get copies of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”, “The Advantage”, and “Crucial Conversations” for you and your leadership team. Read them together and then get to work on the concepts in each book, transforming your organization into one that has a plan and is executing that plan successfully.