Execution is what turns strategies into results.
And it is a very central part in what McKinsey defines as ‘Organization’s health’ *1:
It’s the organization’s ability to align around a common vision,
execute against that vision effectively,
and renew itself through innovation and creative thinking.
Yet, research shows again and again that execution is one of the key problems in lots of organizations. *2
Back to the roots
In dissecting leadership and execution, some elements are very fundamental:
• Leaders don’t make results themselves.
• It is teams that make the things happen which altogether lead to results.
• Teams make things happen because the leader has ENABLED them to.
ENABLING – the key to successful execution
What is it – deep down at the core of leadership - that ENABLES a team to make the things that leads to results?
Down there, where things are simple, logical and undisturbed by the buzz words of this year?
Deep down, where you find the fundamental building bricks or pre-requisites - for teams to execute.
The fundamentals that help ignite new initiatives, and where you can go back to find the root-causes behind lack of progress?
At the most fundamental level of leading to reaching results, leadership is about creating and continuously maintaining a connection between
WHAT to achieve
HOW to make it happen.
This may appear very simple - yet it is from the link between WHAT and HOW that execution takes off.
WHAT to achieve – direction and targets
When both the leader and everyone on the team shares the same picture of WHAT you work to achieve together, you have ENABLED progress on doing things in the right direction.
This implies specifically:
• That you – the leader – has a clear view on WHAT the goal is
• That the team is aligned – both with the leader, and amongst them.
If this alignment is not in place, there will be friction – lack of progress. And in the words of McKinsey, one of the 2 main reasons for only 30% success in change projects is what they call employee resistance.*1
Resistance is when just one key member disagrees to the direction,
believes the KPIs are wrongly defined, or disagrees to the outcome of the project.
It causes friction and blocks progress.
HOW to make things happen
The right Competencies and the right Resources are the fundamental ENABLERS for things to happen in the right way, speed and quality. It is the foundation for ENABLING the team to actually execute.
Again, there are 2 elements:
• It’s about having the right competencies on board. Not ‘the best one around’ – but the right
• And it’s about Resources: People, time and money. In the right mix.
The 4 fundamental enablers
WHAT to achieve and HOW to make it happen – the ENABLERS for successful execution.
The WHAT-HOW Ecosystem and the 4 enablers are extensively covered in the book LEADERSHIP: LESSON ONE – Mastering the fundamentals of leadership.
The 4 fundamental enablers for progress only leads to great results, when kept in balance:
Imagine that one of the 4 is out of balance, and how it will impact progress.
If you (the leader) or the team is not synchronized on WHAT to achieve, the team will either move in a wrong direction, they will use energy to fight on which direction to move in. Or they simply have no clear direction if even the leader is not clear.
Lacking either competencies or resources causes too weak, slow or no progress at the right speed and quality.
Yet, if your initiative is well balanced on the 4 fundamental ENABLERS for the team to perform, you are off to a good start.
Enabling: The continuous work of balancing
With the dynamics of organizations, markets and the gradual evolution of the key initiative, the requirements for execution change.
Balancing the 4 fundamental elements is therefore not a one-off done at the ignition, but continuous work to keep the team ENABLED to execute.
As it was nicely phrased by Harvard Business Review *3:
Unfortunately, no Gantt chart survives contact with reality.
No plan can anticipate every event that might help or hinder a company trying to achieve its strategic objectives.
This is exactly why balancing is a continuous exercise at leadership level.
WHAT and HOW and the 4 enablers may appear obvious on the surface.
Yet, they are easily overlooked in the busy day-to-day life.
The 4 enablers are extensively covered in the book LEADERSHIP: LESSON ONE – Mastering the fundamentals of leadership.
*1: McKinsey Quarterly, September 2017: “Organizational health: A fast track to performance improvement”
*2: The Standish Group Report: Chaos, 2014 and McKinsey, July 2015: Changing Change Management
*3: Harvard Business Review, March 2015: “Why strategy execution unravels – and what to do about it”