I have a client operating in the food industry that has one of the most innovative minds I have ever encountered. I learn so much from our sessions together. She comes up with great ideas that make me ask myself – how come I never noticed that? While I am pondering on one, she has another. When we started working together, she was quite frustrated that she had many ideas in her head that never translated to products or services. She knew there was a problem with execution and my mandate was to get her to be the ‘Master of Execution’ in other words she recognized that for her to be a successful entrepreneur this was essential.
She was right: Execution is a vital part of a company’s strategy and its goals. It is the missing link between aspirations and results. As such, it is major—indeed the major job of a business leader. If you don’t know how to execute, the whole of your effort as a leader or entrepreneur will always be less than the sum of its parts.” – According to Larry Bossidy, “Execution is The Discipline of Getting Things Done”. Execution is simply translating your concepts, plans, strategies and goals into action. This can be difficult because it requires a change in behaviour, it is however possible to consciously develop yourself in this area by applying a few principles.
My client and I embarked on this journey together and at the end of the assigned period she had not only developed her ability to execute but she had also created a culture of focus and accountability in her organization. I will take you through the steps we took to get her and her team to be masters of execution. For illustrative purposes, Kunbi is my client and she owns an event catering business in Lagos, Nigeria.
The first step is to set SMARTER goals: Execution is all about making it happen, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve, what is the objective? Goals/Objectives are important because they keep you focused, propel you forward and keep you accountable. Kunbi and I set our goal: “Achieve 95% customer satisfaction in 3 months.” It is not enough to have a goal, it has to be SMART.
This means that it must be ‘S’ – SPECIFIC. A specific goal should answer the following questions: What do you want to achieve? Who do you need to achieve this? Why do you want to achieve this?
‘M’, your goal must be MEASURABLE – this is the only way to ascertain progress. The objective was to achieve 95% … in 3 months; this was measurable because Kunbi and her team already had customer feedback forms so they could assess customer satisfaction after service.
‘A’, your goal must be ACHIEVABLE that is it must be realistic and attainable. Customer service in Kunbi’s business was not poor, but there were customers who complained about different aspects of the service. The score was currently at 62% and it had been growing monthly by 5%, she wanted to double this monthly and we agreed it was attainable.
‘R’, your goal must be RELEVANT in other words is it aligned with the company’s vision and mission?
‘T’, your goal must be TIME-BOUND there has to be a target date for completion, this will guide your plan and execution. Kunbi’s timeline was 3 months and this informed her plan as well as the measures she put in place to achieve the desired result.
‘E’ – EVALUATE this step is to ensure that your goals are evaluated. By evaluating your goals regularly you are be much more likely to reach them. Note that long-term goals can easily be ignored if they are not evaluated periodically to ensure that short-term actions are still geared towards achieving long-term goals.
‘R’ –The final step in setting SMARTER goals and objectives is to build in the flexibility to RE-ADJUST your approach. After evaluation, there might be a need for your goals to be amended. You must be open to this, don’t forget to ensure the adjusted goal is SMARTER.
It is important to sharpen your FOCUS: You have set smart goals, now you must focus. In business, new opportunities and tasks come up regularly and this is good. You must however hone your ability to filter new tasks and remain focused on your goals. There are 4 D’s of productivity that have been tried and tested in this regard. This decision hurdle will make you and your team more efficient and keep you focused on your objectives.
The first D is Do it – only apply this to important tasks that can only be done by you.
The second D is Delegate it – apply this to important tasks that can be dealt with by another member of your team.
The third D is Defer it: this applies to tasks that are not important at the time, set a reminder and come back to it.
The fourth D is Dump it: this applies to unimportant tasks that are not aligned with your business objectives.
The next step is to create a plan with MILESTONES that take you closer to your GOAL: Planning and execution go hand in hand. Once Kunbi set her objective, she sat with her team and they compiled a list of aspects of the service that influenced customer satisfaction. The Team then identified where there were weaknesses, where there were strengths and what areas the customers highlighted most frequently in their feedback. The next step they took was to come up with specific ways to improve areas of weakness and promote areas of strength. Knowing that there was a target to grow satisfaction by 10% monthly, they set review sessions bi-monthly to report on progress towards the month’s target.
Milestones are really important; if Kunbi’s team did not breakdown the goal to monthly targets, there is a risk that at the end of three months the target will not have been achieved. In month one if they achieve an 8% increase, they can review the strategies that were implemented, what worked, what didn’t and re-strategize for the following month. They can also advise management on the feasibility of that target, management can then decide to either give a bit more time or review the target.
Next, define clear ACCOUNTABILITY for PROGRESS: Everything above falls on its face if there is no accountability. When the plan is being created and milestones are being set, tasks must be assigned, not only for carrying out the tasks but for reporting and reviewing the outcome of those tasks. As part of your management process, establish and track leading and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators focus on output, for example this could be the score of customer satisfaction for the week. Leading indicators on the other hand are typically input oriented; these are the tasks that need to be carried out to achieve a desired result. You can make this as simple as you want: Kunbi used the Calendar app on her phone; she scheduled weekly meetings with each unit head. She set an alert for 1 hour before the meeting to review the previous week’s notes to track the previous weeks result and the agreed next steps for the unit head and her team.
Always agree on and document what the next steps are at the end of each meeting to ensure that all parties are on the same page. It is important to appreciate performance as well as the person/team behind it, use that medium to also connect each job to the overall goal. This personal connection is particularly important when you start something new.
Build your COMPETENCE: Your (your team’s) ability to execute is directly influenced by capability, proficiency, expertise, mastery, skill and talent. Let’s go back to step one – setting smart goals. One of the steps for doing this is establishing that your goals are achievable i.e. realistic and attainable. On this point, you must review the competence required to achieve your objectives. You need to face the reality of your business and your team. If the process of setting a goal reveals that the team doesn’t have the required level of competence, you have to build into the plan a solution for this. A solution can be hiring or training.
Let’s use this illustration: you have some fresh peppers, onions and tomatoes and you want to blend these and make a stew. If you popped these into a regular blender at home you can achieve your goal. Stay with me, so you pop your ingredients in the blender and turn it, the blades start to rotate, great but ingredients are not rotating – what do you do? You add some water – this gets things moving along. As you add more ingredients, you also add water. Competence is like water in this illustration; if we didn’t add any water, the ingredients will eventually rotate and get crushed. It will take longer, strain the motor and the result might be too coarse. When you add competence, the task is easier for everyone and the result is precise.
The title of this piece is: 1, 2, 3… Execute; the numbers are quite significant to what needs to be communicated. It is my belief that anyone can develop their ability to get things done by consciously working through the steps that have been discussed above. In doing this, you will become stronger at execution and so will your team once you begin to build that structure around goals and tasks. 1, 2, 3: there are three principles that lay the foundation for good execution and we will conclude with these:
- Prepare – before you carry out any of these steps above spend some time preparing. E.g. you need to set a SMARTER goal for the year with your team; preparation is asking:
- How did the company do the previous year?
- What were the influencing factors?
- What lessons were learnt?
- What is pertinent for this year’s goal?
- When you have done your homework, you set yourself up to get the best out of any meeting, brainstorm or review session. This can be applied to every single thing you do.
- Commit – Commitment is an indispensable foundation to master execution. If you do not commit to following the steps above in your organization, you will start and stop a few times and won’t get the desired outcome. Commitment comes from understanding the value of something and then deciding that you need that value added.
- Follow – through – Larry Bossidy in his book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done wrote “Follow – through is the cornerstone of execution” I interpret this as – Execution DEPENDS on follow-though, without follow – through, there is no execution.