Strategy execution

“Seventy percent of strategic failures are due to poor execution of leadership. It’s rarely for lack of smarts or vision.”

/Ram Charan/ Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done


Do your managers know how to institutionalize goal clarity and an execution process throughout the organization?

Executing strategic goals and objectives is the greatest challenge in business today. Aligning the organization’s managers and work teams with your most Wildly Important Goals and objectives is a never-ending battle. In addition, keeping managers and work teams engaged and focused on the top goals is critical. Imagine an organization in which managers and work teams are focused and aligned to the most important organizational priorities.

Why Execution Breaks Down

FranklinCovey has studied the topic of execution for seven years in thousands of teams and in hundreds of organizations. Execution breaks down because of the conflict between the enormous amount of effort required to maintain an operation (your “day job” or what we call the “whirlwind”) and the goals for moving the operation forward. While both forces are necessary, they are not the same and do not get along. They compete for time, energy, and attention. Think about the key goals or strategies that you’ve seen die. How did they die? Did they come crashing down with a loud noise, or did they die quietly as they were suffocated by the “whirlwind”?

The real execution challenge is not merely executing on a goal, it’s executing on a goal in the midst of the whirlwind! What makes this execution challenge even more difficult are four common management breakdowns:

  1. Managers and work teams don’t know the goal. Our research has shown that only 15 percent of employees actually know their organization’s most important goals—either there are no goals or they have too many goals, or there is limited transition of organizational priorities to the front line.
  2. Managers and teams don’t know what to do to achieve the goal. Too many people don’t know what critical activities provide the greatest leverage to achieving team goals. Too often, people replace leveraged activities with frenetic busyness.
  3. They don’t keep score. Our research shows that most workers don’t know what the key measures of success are, and they don’t measure and track the specific behaviors that lead to goal accomplishment.
  4. They are not held accountable. Our research shows that fewer than 10 percent of people meet with their manager at least monthly to discuss their progress on work goals.

Overcoming these breakdowns is not easy. Far from it. While most workers have more choices and more technology than ever before, very few know how to filter through all the competing priorities to flawlessly execute on their most important goals.


How to Create an Execution Culture? Start by Moving the Middle
One of the most significant barriers to superior results in any organization is chronic inconsistency—the variation in performance between divisions, between departments, between shifts in the same department, and between people on the same shift. In every great organization, you will find pockets of great execution—a “top 20 percent” of high performance. The challenge is to move the middle 60 percent of your average workforce toward the higher performance level of the top 20 percent. Improvement of this magnitude doesn’t produce incremental results — it creates breakthrough results.

It takes incredible discipline to execute a strategic goal in any organization with excellence. But it takes even more discipline to do so again and again. Creating a culture of execution means embedding four basic disciplines into your organization. At every level, individuals, leaders, and teams need to institutionalize a common approach.

1. Focus on the wildly important.
Exceptional execution starts with narrowing the focus— clearly identifying what must be done, or nothing else you achieve really matters much.

2. Act on the lead measures.
Twenty percent of activities produce eighty percent of results. The highest predictors of goal achievement are the 80/20 activities that are identified and codified into individual actions and tracked fanatically.

3. Keep a compelling scoreboard.
People and teams play differently when they are keeping score, and the right kind of scoreboards motivate the players to win.

4. Create a cadence of accountability.
Great performers thrive in a culture of accountability that is frequent, positive, and self-directed. Each team engages in a simple weekly process that highlights successes, analyzes failures, and course-corrects as necessary, creating the ultimate performance-management system.

In stark contrast to traditional training, this program takes a Six Sigmalike approach toward certifying managers to produce real work and real results. This Manager Certification includes three levels:

Bronze Certification

Demonstrated adherence to The 4 Disciplines of Execution process.

Silver Certification

Continued adherence to The 4 Disciplines of Execution process and verification that the right activities and measures are on target toward influencing the key goals and objectives.

Gold Certification

Continued adherence to the The 4 Disciplines of Execution process and demonstrated achievement of a critical goal or objectives.

How Manager Certification Works

You can build a “culture of execution” as key managers in your organization— from your most senior leader to lieutenants on your front line—become certified in The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Here’s how:

1. Manager Work Session
a. Shared buy-in and commitment to the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) at the larger and sub-team levels
b. The creation of lead measures at the sub-team level
c. The creation and design of simple yet compelling scoreboards for tracking the progress of the WIGs. This consists of a few critical “lagging” and “leading” indicators for the goal
d. Agreement on the weekly process for accountability and follow-through on prior commitments (the WIG Session)

2. Certification Session
Leaders are prepared to teach and implement The 4 Disciplines of Execution with their own teams. This includes being able to:
• Teach a 45-minute overview of the The 4 Disciplines of Execution
• Ratify the WIG and lead measures with the team
• Finalize the scoreboard with the team
• Conduct the first WIG Session
• Understand the key “watch-outs” for each discipline

3. Team Work Session
Leaders teach and implement The 4 Disciplines of Execution with their teams. Each leader will go back to their teams and take a half day with their teams to get their scoreboards and WIGs finalized, to get their team members committed, and to run their first weekly WIG Session. The next session, the Scoreboard Review, is the deadline for leaders to accomplish this assignment.

4. Scoreboard Review
Report back to the leadership team and the FranklinCovey consultant on WIGs, lead measures, and scoreboard creation. This is a great opportunity for any needed coaching or support. Expectations and accountability are discussed to get people started executing as a team.

5. Executive Report-Out
Account for and celebrate results. Leaders and teams will be able to report that they are winning. Having this report-out on the horizon from the very beginning of the process also lets leaders know that this is not just “training,” and that this process is serious. Getting people to use the process and experience some quick wins are key factors to ensuring its sustainability. The results will be reported by each leader in this format:
a. What WIG(s) did we set and why?
b. What are our results to date (for both the lag and lead measures)?
c. What is the key learning from the past three months?
d. What is different as a result of going through the process?

You can read about this on FranklinCovey’s homepage.