This article is an expansion to a presentation that I gave to doctoral students at Old Dominion University on October 16, 2008. The presentation related to administrative supervision in a community mental health center. However, the principles outlined in this paper are useful in any organization.
Today’s discussion is about execution. It’s about getting results. This is a challenging topic to write about. In fact, this topic humbles me because successful execution is difficult to do. However, the effective Executive must know how to execute and to challenge his or her team to do likewise. Results are often delayed or never reached because the Executive and his or her team are caught in the “whirlwind” of their daily jobs. According to Franklin Covey, “The whirlwind is all the work you do every day just to keep things going. It is all about urgent priorities that come at you and demand your immediate attention” (p.4).
Let me say it again. Execution is about results. Leadership knowledge and skill mean nothing if the Executive cannot execute or produce results. According to Peter Drucker, effective Executives focus on results and work “to produce sustained results” (The Effective Executive in Action, p.40). Peter Drucker also believes that “direct results of an organization are clearly visible…. In a business, they are economic results such as sales and profits. In a hospital, they are patient care, and so on” (p.45).
The Franklin Covey Group asserts that to effectively execute, a plan must be in place. Franklin Covey believes that the plan gives the executive controls to help move the organization to its desired results. The plan is what you want to accomplish and the execution of the plan gives the Executive a road map to reach the goal or desired result. Without a plan, and understanding of how to execute the plan, obtaining the company’s desired results will be lost in the daily “whirlwind.”
Even with a plan, execution gaps are still possible. The Franklin Covey Group asserts that there are four reasons for such gaps. The first reason is that people don’t know the goal. The goal can be as simple as seeing 5 billable clients per day. The problem, however, is that 5 billable clients are not coming in on a daily basis. So, what should the plan or revised plan be to make that happen. That leads to execution gap 2: people don’t know what to do to achieve the goal. In fact, the Covey Group writes, “whenever a new goal is set, someone somewhere must do something they’ve never done before; and until they do that, there is no execution. They must change their behavior (p.1).” Harold C. Lloyd in his book, “Am I The Leader I Need to Be” argues why try to “solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions… come up with new answers…don’t let great ideas wither on the vine…develop an action plan and see it through the end” (p.36).
Execution gap number 3 happens when people do not keep score. Measuring what you do is critical. However, in many nonprofits and small governmental agencies, “real time” data are hard to come by. These agencies either don’t have the expertise, the will or the right software to collect lead indicators or measures. Data is still collected the old fashion way. “We do it by hand.” This method takes time away from other critical tasks. “We rely on someone else to give us the data.” The data received are often lag measures and the results often are too late to make the desire execution changes needed to have an impact in a given funding year.
You need to know your numbers. Lloyd asserts that an effective Executive or a genuine leader will find a way to measure, know their numbers, and then effectively manage the numbers. Effectively managing the numbers provides information to fix, re-adjust or revise the execution plan. Lloyd writes, “Any organizational endeavor’s success is best measured with numbers. Although a leader doesn’t have to know how to perform every function within his/her span of control, he or she must be able to read and understand the performance indicators of each of those functions. A leader must also be able to detect impending problems and spot wide-open opportunities before they slip away to the competition (p.76).”
Lloyd goes on to say that “Genuine Leaders are capable of making decisive and calculated decisions based on facts and figures rather than on feelings and emotions (p.76).” The Franklin Covey Group also strongly believes that everyone should know the score; not just management alone. I agree. I encourage and explain to my managers why it is important to know their targets and I encourage them to help their direct/front line employees know their targets as well. When we know our score and then achieve our score or target—the customer wins, the employee wins and the company wins.
Even with the knowledge of where we need to get to, breakdown in the execution may continue. The Franklin Covey Group argues that execution breakdown happens because people are not held accountable. The Covey Group asserts that accountability must happen at all levels in the organization; from the very top to the front line. Holding someone accountable is not necessarily a negative outcome; especially if the person or the team did their best to obtain the desire goal or goals. In their book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the Franklin Covey Group advocates having weekly accountability sessions. These accountability sessions are conducted after the organizational unit has set “wildly important goals” (WIGS) and have agreed on the measurements and the winning score to achieve the company’s desired result. Team members in each session make a commitment to each other to achieve the “winning score” and if barriers arise other team members often will offer suggestions and in some cases, assist in removing the barriers so each individual and therefore the overall team accomplishes the desired outcome or target score. The bottom line is to be able to measure your production, provide and review measurements on a set schedule and assure that all team members know what is being measured and what the target score is.
We cannot end our discussion without addressing decision-making. Execution requires the Executive to be decisive. Although decisiveness is not simple, it is attainable and there are some key things an executive can do to help in decision-making. One key is to be observant. An executive cannot be observant if he is chained to his office. Therefore, an effective Executive must move around the plant. This allows him or her to interact with the employees, the stakeholders and the customers and practice active listening with each of them.
Another step in being decisive is having critical information to review. Often this information will be known by examining your own facts and figures (know your numbers) as we explained above; gathering information by reading and reviewing trade journals from both inside and outside your industry and again talking to key stakeholders (staff, customers, board members, etc.) within the company. Finally, it also helps to seek out the advice of your peers or colleagues. Your colleagues may have had to wrestle with the issues before you now and can offer invaluable insight and direction from their own experiences.
After a decision has been made, take the time, if possible, to explain to those who are impacted by your decision why you chose one course of action over another. This extra step of explanation empowers the team and offers a way to mentor your team on leadership execution.
In conclusion, if you cannot execute or obtain the desired results, you will eventually lose your own compass and your team’s attention and focus. The reverse of that, effective execution, is a motivated team who has identified targets and is equipped to reach them.
In part IV, we will discuss some necessary business acumen an effective executive needs to move his or her organization to the next level.