A Leader’s Role in Achieving Excellence in Execution

Leadership execution
This is a guest post by Robin Speculand, author of Excellence in Execution: How to Implement Your Strategy. Robin is the founder and CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy and creator of the Implementation Hub.

Don’t Lead by Example

To guide an organization through the execution of its strategy, leaders… don’t lead by example.

In strategy execution, leaders are responsible for driving the strategy forward and championing the direction the organization is heading. This involves, for example, reviewing progress, coaching people, resolving issues, and ensuring the right outcomes are being achieved. Leaders don’t lead by example as they don’t implement strategy; their employees do.

Before you even start your strategy execution, the odds are stacked against you as more fail than succeed. I have seen from my seventeen years consulting in this field that leaders are guilty of delegating the execution and not paying adequate attention to it. When leaders do this, their people also stop paying attention to it. McKinsey & Company stated that, “Half of all efforts to transform organization performance fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organization defend the status quo.”

 

Show Confidence in the Strategy

If leaders perceive execution as an interruption to the business, they will not drive and champion it.

Anything short of embracing a new strategy and its execution by leaders can be seen by employees as a lack of confidence in the strategy itself. That feeling will spread throughout the organization.

  • If you only apply lip service to the execution without championing it, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t create the time to oversee the implementation journey, change the agenda and explain why the organization needs to transform, then employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t set the strategy and create the budget to allocate required funding, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.

 

Booz and Co. Survey: 53% don’t believe their company’s strategy will lead to success.

 

A key question to consider is:What are you willing to do to execute your organization’s strategy?”

In contrast, strategy execution progresses when leaders support their comments with time and actions. Because only so much can go on a leader’s radar, he or she has to carefully select which actions will best drive the execution forward and where to invest their time.

Booz & Company surveyed executives from around the world on the results of their organizations’ strategic initiatives. Given more than 2,350 responses, the findings suggest a high degree of disillusionment, including:

  • Two-thirds (67%) say their company’s capabilities do not fully support the company’s own strategy and the way it creates value in the market.
  • Only one in five executives (21%) thinks the company has a “right to win” in all the markets it competes in.
  • Most of the respondents (53%) don’t believe their company’s strategy would lead to success.

If leaders don’t believe in the strategy, they will never be authentic and sincere in executing it.

 

PWC Survey: 55% of CEO’s state lack of trust is a major threat to growth.

 

Demonstrate Increased Commitment

12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

Today’s Marketing Leaders

Today, many marketing leaders report that they are having less impact and are not satisfied in their jobs. That may be somewhat surprising since marketing methods and capabilities are in the midst of exciting changes and the opportunities are like never before.

 

Research: only 44% of marketing leaders satisfied with career.

 

Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey Partner, and Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, just conducted the most extensive research ever on what drives marketers’ business impact and career success. What drives impact? What does it take to thrive in marketing today? With data spanning 170 countries and over 8,600 leaders, Thomas and Paddy distilled the results into what it really takes to drive customer and company value.

Thomas and Paddy recently shared more with me about their new book, The 12 Powers of A Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value, and the extensive research behind their findings.

 

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.” -Lao Tzu

 

Your research revealed that most senior marketers aren’t satisfied with their career paths. Why not? What’s different for them than they expected?

12 Powers of a Marketing LeaderThat’s right. Only 44% of marketers are satisfied with their careers—and in the 360-degree data, marketers’ bosses, when comparing the career success of all their direct reports, put them last. We think there are two reasons. First, as customer experts, they likely think they should have more influence on key business decisions rather than being limited to decisions on advertising and promotion. Recent research by Frank Germann, Peter Ebbs and Rajdeep Grewal shows that they’re right: having a CMO in the C-suite and having an influential marketing department do help companies become more customer-focused, increasing business performance. Secondly, they lack job security. While average S&P 500 CEO tenure is six years plus, average US CMO tenure is only four years and possibly decreasing: search firm Spencer Stuart recently reported it was down to forty-four months in 2015.

 


“Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.” -Warren Bennis

 

Balance Leadership and Functional Skills

You say that leadership skills matter more than technical marketing skills. I passionately agree. Is there a certain time when this matters more in a career? How do marketers balance the constant need to stay up with new technologies with the need to learn leadership skills? 

Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing, and many marketers underinvest in leadership skills.

As a junior marketer, most of your effort will inevitably go into becoming excellent in the particular technical area you’re working on. As you become more senior, you have to achieve more through other people. But at all stages, it’s important to keep developing your broader business and leadership skills.

Our evidence is that many, perhaps most, senior marketers are getting so sucked into the ever-changing technical issues that they lose sight of the bigger picture and the need to build and mobilize a great team, keep it aligned around the CEO’s agenda, spend time with their non-marketing colleagues who mainly determine the quality of the customer experience, and so on.

Patrick Barwise Patrick Barwise

As a senior marketer, you should aim to be a leader of leaders. You need enough understanding of the latest technical developments to hire the best people, mobilize them, align them with the strategy, and constructively challenge them when necessary. But your main role isn’t to try to keep fully up to speed on the technicalities (an impossible task); it’s to ensure that, as a group, the team contributes as much as possible to the development and execution of the strategy. Crucially, that includes mobilizing your boss and your non-marketing colleagues as well as your team (and yourself).

Functional skills and leadership skills matter. Getting the balance right is a big challenge, but really important for both marketing and the company.

 


“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” -Joss Whedon

 

Take a 360 Degree View of Leadership

You distill your findings into 12 traits that drive success, and you put them in 4 categories (boss, colleagues, team, yourself). That’s basically an internal 360 degree view from where you sit in an organization. What are some of the symptoms that demonstrate you have it wrong, e.g., you’re focusing too much on the boss and not enough on the team or otherwise have your balance out of whack?

That’s exactly right about the 360 degree view. Our beef with most work on leadership is that it’s only about managing your subordinates and perhaps yourself. But most leaders – in fact, everyone up to CXO level – also need to manage their relationships with their colleagues and bosses. The traditional picture of leadership is incomplete except for perhaps the CEO – and even the CEO is accountable to the chairman and the board.

The main way in which senior marketers get this balance wrong is by spending most of their time inside the marketing department managing the team’s activities rather than walking the halls to energize everyone around the customer agenda. The symptoms are that non-marketers in these companies will likely say: “Marketing is a silo,” while the marketers will refer to themselves as something like “the coloring-in department” – that is, limited to advertising and promotion, with little influence on the company’s products, prices, distribution, service support, etc.

 

The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

  1. Tackle only big issues
  2. Deliver returns, no matter what
  3. Work only with the best
  4. Hit the head and the heart
  5. Walk the halls
  6. You go first
  7. Get the mix right
  8. Cover them in trust
  9. Let the outcomes speak
  10. Fall in love with your world
  11. Know how you inspire
  12. Aim higher

 

Cover Them With Trust

I appreciate your chapter Cover Them with Trust. Talk about trust – what steps should a leader take to build trust?

Tomas Barta Tomas Barta

To build trust within the team, leaders need to go beyond professionalism (knowing a lot, being reliable, and so on) and our key recommendation to get people to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” People like strong leaders who trust them and genuinely listen to their ideas and concerns, but they also want to know the real person behind the business leader. That’s why, at times, it’s critical to be willing to show weakness, too. Michelle Peluso, former CEO of online shopping site Gilt, for example, shared her own 360-degree assessments with her team and asked for help. You can’t put a value on that. Conversely, having and showing a big ego destroys trust. So make your corner office the team room. Praise people. Take one for the team at times.

 

“A big ego destroys trust.”

 

The 4 Most Important Powers

How to Transform Promises into Results

Be An Agenda Mover

It’s not enough to have an idea.

Ideas without action, without execution, without forward-momentum don’t matter. To make a difference, you need to have the skills to turn an idea into reality.

Leaders are people who turn ideas into something tangible, turning promises into results.

 

“If you cannot move your agenda, you’re not a leader.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

It’s a skill that anyone can learn. And Samuel B. Bacharach, the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, is an expert in execution. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training leaders in the skills of the Agenda Mover, and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Sam about his newest book and turning ideas into reality.

 

Develop the Qualities of an Agenda Mover

Having a great idea is not enough. You teach a process for taking an idea into actionable reality. Before we go into your process, what leadership qualities are essential to being an effective agenda mover?

First and foremost, Agenda Movers keep their egos in check. They are aware that – no matter how good they think their idea is—there may be other perspectives out there. They understand that confidence is one thing, but they know ego can lead to delusion.

Second, Agenda Movers are deeply empathetic. I use that word in a very specific way, meaning that Agenda Movers are capable of standing in the shoes of other people and are capable of seeing the world from varied perspectives. They can see their agenda not only from their perspective but also from the perspective of others.

Third, Agenda Movers tactically focus. They are mindful of small details and tactics. They understand that charisma, bombastic ideas, and grand promises work only up to a point and that what is really needed to get things done are micro-behavioral skills.

Lastly, Agenda Movers understand that they can’t do it alone. To get anything done they need to have others in their corner. They understand the importance of coalitions, and they are able to adopt a coalition mindset.

If you look at the great Agenda Movers out there—these are the characteristics they all share.

 

“Agenda Movers understand what it takes to move things forward.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

Anticipate Motivations

The first step of your strategic blueprint is to anticipate others’ agendas and know where they’re coming from. I recall one person just totally missing it, oblivious to what seemed to be obvious signs. How do you help aspiring leaders to be more situationally aware of others and their motivations?

I think this is the number one mistake leaders make: They don’t spend enough time focusing on where others are coming from.

I remember years ago a student of mind was asking for advice on defending her dissertation in front of five faculty members I knew. The main advice I gave her was to stop focusing on her dissertation and instead to focus on the dissertations and research that the members of the committee had done. Simply put, I told her, “You know where you’re coming from. Make sure you know where they are coming from.”

Good Agenda Movers do their homework and I mean that literally. They dedicate time to figuring out there others stand, how they think, and what they want. They don’t presume they are born with situational awareness—they develop it and work on it.

Too often we look for shortcuts in trying to figure out the agendas of others. We think that if we understand their background or their personality, we can generalize their motivation and intention. This belief is both lazy and wrong. For most people, whether in organizations or in politics, motivation is determined by the specific agenda, not simply by personality.

An individual may be a staunch traditionalist on one issue and a complete revolutionary on another issue. Leaders who make quick summations about the agendas of others and don’t do their homework are bound to make mistakes.

 

“Leadership is about building a coalition that can turn an innovative idea into reality.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

How to Deal With Resistance

Gaining traction and initial support is crucial. If you’re met with resistance, what do you do?

First of all, resistance should never come as a surprise to anyone. All leaders, all organizational actors, will face resistance—it’s just a question of when and how much.

In our political and organizational systems, resistance is part and parcel of the checks and balances that improve what we’re trying to accomplish.

So for starters, don’t let resistance throw you for a loop. Don’t let it shock you. Don’t let it root you to the ground. Instead, you should expect it and have a plan to deal with it.

I argue in my book that there are only a handful of ways people can resist an idea. To the surprise of my students, this really isn’t a daunting challenge. There are a limited number of ways resistance can argue against any idea and leaders can easily defend against these arguments with a little preparation. Once you’re able to categorize the arguments of resistance, you will be able to apply your counter arguments of justification.

 

Leadership Tip: Know where you want to go and whose support you need to get there.

 

Know the 3 Types of Resistors

What’s the best way to deal with resistors?

The first thing you need to understand is what type of resistance you’re facing.

In my book I look at three main types of resistors in an organizational context: active resistors, passive resistors, and internal resistors.

While I always support leaders building a wide swath of support, they might have the hardest time convincing active resistors to join their coalition. At some point, an Agenda Mover should move on and not waste his or her time.

Good Agenda Movers focus on talking with passive resistors. They are those actors who aren’t actively undermining your efforts, but certainly are not helping them, either. Since they are on the fence, so to speak, a leader can be clever and find ways to incorporate them into his or her coalition by presenting potential benefits to them.

Lastly, there are internal resistors—those who sneak into a coalition in a Trojan Horse. Agenda Movers can prevent them from showing up by monitoring their coalition and making sure they don’t let team traction and momentum slip after an initial surge.

 

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King

 

How to Sustain Momentum

Once you get going, you need to sustain the momentum. How do you use small victories effectively? Why do some ideas die in this stage?

Some leaders are great at mobilizing political support for their agenda. They’re great at convincing people of the need for innovation and change. They’re great at getting others to join them. But they drop the ball once they mobilize support. It’s sort of like the politician who gets elected but doesn’t deliver.The Agenda Mover Book Jacket

These leaders stop doing their homework. They stop thinking about the team. They lose their focus and start looking toward the horizon for another big project or a big career move. As a result, they leave it to their coalition to work out the day-to-day details of implementing a new idea.

Agenda Movers can’t relax once they start building some traction. If anything, they need to work harder to drive momentum by not only celebrating small victories but also by providing the right resources and maintaining optimism. They have to supplement the prudent political competence they have used to gain support with a managerial capacity to make sure that things keep on moving. Like I said, it is one thing to gain support and it is another to deliver.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Is there one step in the agenda moving process where most leaders fail? 

Why Leaders Must Develop An Outward Mindset

Develop the Outward Mindset

Your mindset is the key to your success, your happiness, and your ability to perform at exceptional levels. Your mindset is how you look at yourself and the world around you. An internal mindset is one blind to others, what they need, and how to create collective results.

Jim Ferrell, co-founder and Managing Partner of The Arbinger Institute is the author/co-author of multiple bestselling books, including Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. His latest book, co-authored with Mitchell Warner, is The Outward Mindset.

 

It’s as eye opening and important as his earlier work.

I recently spoke with Jim about his research on perspective and personal effectiveness. The ideas in this new book can improve performance, spark collaboration, and accelerate innovation.

 

“The secret to teamwork is an outward mindset.” –Steve Young

 

How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations

Would you introduce the concept of “The Outward Mindset”?

With an outward mindset, we see others as people like ourselves, whose goals, objectives, needs, and challenges matter to us. With an inward mindset, on the other hand, we see others as objects whose primary value to us depends on the extent to which we think they can help us with our own goals and objectives.

Our new book, The Outward Mindset, is about the key differences between these two mindsets and how to move to an outward mindset. The real-life stories in the book illustrate the dramatic difference in influence and results that individuals, teams, and organizations see as they shift to more of an outward-mindset orientation. The book details both how to personally make this shift and how to help others—individuals and whole organizations—to make it.

 

“Too many leaders assume that the role of leadership is to control.” –Jim Ferrell

 

Shift to the Outward Mindset

You share some powerful stories of shifting to an outward mindset. Are there “typical” difficulties and struggles in making this shift, especially if you found someone who was way off the scale on the inward side?

The biggest challenge is people linking their own mindset change to a change in others. When people have an inward mindset, they characteristically blame their struggles—and even their own mindsets—on others. They believe that they have to have an inward mindset in order to defend themselves against all the people around them who have an inward mindset. We demonstrate in the book how this belief is mistaken. We show that the most important move—both in organizations and in life generally— is for people to shift to an outward-mindset approach even when others around them persist in inwardness. This is a very powerful move, and the willingness to do it is one of the most important elements of transformational leadership.

As for someone being way off the scale on the inward side, most people are a mix of the two mindsets. Someone who is tyrannically inward in one part of their life, for example, may be quite different in other contexts. This means that people often are much closer to a change to an outward mindset than many people around them may believe.

 

“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.” –GK Chesterton

 

The Incredible Results of an Outward Mindset

What results do you see after the shift has occurred?

Wow, it’s hard to know where to begin. At its most basic level, a change to an outward mindset transforms the health and vitality of relationships. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When we are connected to others in an others-inclusive way—where we see others as people who matter like we ourselves matter—we tend to do much better with others (and they with us!) than when we are self-focused and see others as objects or tools to be used for our own purposes.

As a result of this transformational effect on relationships, one of the interesting things we often find in our work with organizations is that even the non-work relationships of the people we work with dramatically improve. I can’t tell you the number of times people have told us that our work has saved their marriages or healed the rifts in their relationships with their parents, siblings, or children.

For the same basic reason, a shift to an outward mindset in the workplace dramatically improves the abilities of teams, departments, and whole organizations to work productively together. These improvements show up in organizational climate, engagement surveys, customer satisfaction scores, and in the bottom line results of organizations.

Jim Ferrell

How does the outward mindset manifest itself in individual and team goals?

Although people generally aren’t aware of this, most organizational systems, incentives, and goals are inherently inward in nature. They invite people to focus on themselves and their own activities and levels of performance rather on the impact of their activities on others.

As a result, the move to an outward mindset often dramatically changes the objectives and metrics that people and organizations pursue and utilize. You can imagine, for example, how a person’s view of his own job responsibilities would change if he knew that he was responsible not only for certain outputs but also for the impact of those outputs (and the way he went about delivering them) on others.

When individuals and organizations get serious about moving to more of an outward-mindset approach, they start paying attention to and measuring their impact, not just their activities or outputs.

 

“All action results from thought, so it is thoughts that matter.” -Sai Baba