Sai Kumar Chandran
“The result of bad communication is the disconnection between strategy and execution.”
Chuk Martin, former VP, IBM
To pick up a question from here, “How badly does this impact organizations?”. Search popular business literature, and you will find that only about 10 – 15 % of organizations achieve all their strategic objectives, that too in a good year. In fact, a Brightline – Economist research called out in 2017, that on average, organizations are not able to achieve 20% of their strategic objectives.
So, what happens if the strategy is designed but the execution doesn’t happen?
Based on my work in 50-60% of organizations this is a combination of 2 factors:
Lack of High Performing Teams – i.e., teams which are naturally driven to achieve impactful results
Failure of three processes, which prevent the formation and sustenance of high-performing teams
- Communication, which leads to alignment to a cause
- Cooperation, which leads to load sharing once aligned to a cause
- Coordination, which leads to teams getting timing right while load sharing
(In the remaining organizations, it is a combination of several other factors like leadership quality, structure, functional capability, etc. that causes the failure in translating strategy to execution. More about that another day. For now, we will focus on the earlier set of organizations.)
The three factors called out here are consciously termed as processes, and not mindsets, skillsets, or tools & frameworks. Knowledge, skills, and tools are all important and most organizations have enough or create these through trainings, etc. However, despite having all these teams fail, and the missing processes are the key. In fact, even with average skills, a good process can yield great results. WHY: because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When many people, get the process right, the results are even greater.
So, let’s answer the question: how do we ensure, the strategy as designed is executed and outcomes are achieved? Answer is developing and sustaining High Performing Teams by:
Establishing communication processes that align people to a common cause
Steps to take:
1. State and clarify strategy for the organization, and strategy relevant to the team
2. Break the strategy down to actionable steps, so people can consume and develop their understanding on why, what & how
3. Encourage open discussions, and shape any changes
4. Agree on communication needs and cadence so everyone relates to whoever they need relate with, to get the job done
5. Eliminate biases, stereotypes, micro aggression, and anything else that can cause communication failure
6. Set and sign-off communication, information sharing, feedback, and other communication rituals and their standards
Establish cooperation by ensuring people agree to load sharing by doing what they can do best
Steps to take (once communication is satisfactory and confusion is settling):
1. Get everyone to agree to the organizational, departmental and team priorities and see their personal roles-objectives-results in that light
2. Agree on vertical, horizontal and process chain responsibilities and interdependencies, while keep people’s strengths in mind
3. Agree on quality standards for deliverables, and definition of daily/weekly progress
4. Perform and achieve progress every day and every week
- No progress in a week, is a grave sign of slippage in a system
5. Discuss during reviews and identify quality and quantity gaps
6. Eliminate any workload distribution or process bottlenecks that are creating quality and quantity chokepoints
- Capability and capacity building will be required to resolve this
Establishing coordination by ensuring people do the right things (per cooperation standards) at the right time
Steps to take (once cooperation is at an acceptable level and initial results are visible):
1. Find and track the time taken by different people in the team or process
2. Identify timing challenges and their root cause
3. Build capability, capacity, tools, or rules of engagement to solve the timing challenges
4. In current times, implementation of technology can be used for eliminating administrative tasks hence improving coordination challenges
If these 3 processes are done correctly and consistently, the teams will start performing. With a few quarters behind them, the team has learned to be a High Performing Team. A high-performing team is the only way we can get sustained organizational results, i.e., execution that makes the strategy design come to fruition.
A caution in this journey is that this does take a little time. So, do not rush the processes. It takes a few quarters of effort, but it is worth the effort, considering the benefits it brings to the organization’s outcomes and its morale. Nothing sustains like success. And nothing engages like sustained success.
Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.