The Art of Getting Stuff Done – 4 Things Leaders Should Know

Execution 4A review of contemporary literature on business success (or success in any endeavor involving the joint efforts of two or more people) often breaks down success into a couple of principles.  Leadership and management are often discussed in the same conversation as if they are two separate end states which will sometimes run at cross-purposes to each other. They are also often discussed as applying to different elements of whatever this joint endeavor may be (such as “you lead people but you manage things”). Here at The Jersey, we are on record for having a fondness for leadership and the dynamic between you and your team.  Personal leadership is critical to any joint venture, and  incorporates good communication, integrity, courage, and all the personal attributes or descriptions about how humans interact that we have been discussing for the past two years. Force of will can accomplish wonderous things and drive people to incredible heights, but it can often run smack up against a bad plan (or no plan) and leave everyone frustrated.

In a multi-level organization, it would be fair to say that there are thinkers and doers. Lots of professional education goes into making the right decisions in formulating a plan, which may likely have some leadership attributes inherent.  However, at some end of the great plan is the execution phase, which in plain speak, is the art of getting stuff done. As leaders, there comes a time when the power of your personality alone, and the depth of your relationships with the team, will not always guarantee the victory you hope to achieve. But it sure can help.execution 1

A study within the last decade revealed that over two-thirds of corporate strategies are never successfully executed. Why that happens seems to be a matter of (many) opinions but in no particular order, they boil down to key leaders failing to devote the time, resources, or attention to the small details that move the ball forward. Since this blog is devoted to the doers, who are on the line with the team, what responsibility do we have at that level? Many of the reasons for failure certainly reside at the top of the organization, where decision power resides in terms of allocating resources, or time, or simply the authority to push the “Go” button. Looking a little farther down the chain of command, front-line leaders may have been pushed into uncharted waters that require new or higher levels of leadership skills. They may also have been given poor guidance and simply had the plan “dumped” on their heads with little input about how to make it a success, or more importantly, engage the team in carrying it out.Execution 2

So, as a front-line leader on your team, what is your responsibility for executing the plan?  What things can you do, or are under your control in contributing to a successful effort?  Can you actually undermine or work at cross-purposes to the plan? Let’s break that down into some reasonable steps you can take to increase the likelihood of mission success.

  • OBJECTIVE – Leaders at every level must be able to answer the question “Why this objective and not something else?”. If you are getting ready to brief the team and can’t answer this question, you better reconcile that pronto.  Nothing undermines the plan worse than briefing it to the troops in such a way as they think you have no clue about why something is being done.  That disconnect between the boardroom concept and the reality of the trenches will critically hobble the need to connect the desired outcomes with the necessary efforts.  It also starts the process of allowing the team to distance themselves from responsibility for their own roles.

  • ALIGNMENT – Our good friend Peter Drucker has been oft-quoted about the conflict between strategy and culture so we won’t repeat it again. However, every plan when it is drawn up is based on the assumption that the goals and means are 100% in alignment with the values, practices and behaviors of an organization, and the people within it. While a given plan may align perfectly with the expensive multicolor poster on the boardroom wall, that doesn’t always play well with the team.  It is the difference between two realities. One is the objective, which contains things like formal charts of command or organizational relationships, established routines or procedures, sheer volumes of humans assigned to the plan, and the tools and equipment to be used. The other reality is the subjective, based on influence, trust, inspiration, fulfillment, and other human reaction towards their jobs and their team. Suffice to say, a plan based on the false perception that the team shares a certain value, or fails to consider that a piece of technology is threatening rather than enabling, can be a big shock to the boardroom.

  • FRICTION AND RESISTANCE – No matter how good the strategy, and how internalized the elements are to the team as a whole, friction and resistance are impediments to mission success. They will test flexibility and patience and quickly identify (if unknown) what the Single Point of Failure may be. Friction can be a big deal, or it can be made part of the objective reality in the planning process. It is not willful but is the natural byproduct of trying to synchronize the human and the machine. Delays can be a result of things beyond the control of the players, and leaders should always think in terms of Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Cut-Our-Losses. Resistance on the other hand is a more deliberate response, generally human, and thus, subject to our leadership effect. Remember, the foundation of plans is often a change in direction or purpose. It isn’t a huge revelation that not everyone craves change. At its most passive, resistance may just be an inability to get on board the change train. At its worse, you have seriously relocated the cheese of persons who object and have much more stake in the status quo. Consider for a moment why that is, and your role in addressing it.

  • TRUST – The last element comes down to you. What if you are the one thing that is standing between your team’s wholesale commitment to the goal and their desire for self-preservation? Trust can be defined many ways, but in an organization, your street cred with the team is based on your prior track record, and what they perceive your motives to be.  This is where your past efforts at leading this team are going to pay off.  Having built relationships based on integrity, motives aligned to the organization and not yourself, proven past successes in which trusting you ended up well for those who did, and clear understanding that you know why and in what way the team is moving in a certain direction, can prove the difference between success and failure.

Execution is difficult.  Extremely. The bigger the team, the clearer the plan needs to be. However, the likelihood  of any plan’s success is inextricably linked to the understanding of “‘Why this plan?’ and ‘Why now?'”. As leaders, that is our ball to run with.

execution 3