Ask Root May/June 2014

What is a realistic expectation of how long it truly takes to execute a strategy?

The time it takes to execute a strategy is actually a bit of a trick question because it has two opposite but both equally accurate answers; it takes both multiple weeks AND multiple years.

First, the multiple weeks answer: For a strategy to have a chance to be successfully brought to life there must be early wins to build confidence that it can be done. There also must be tangible examples of what it looks like and what is required from people across the organization.

Overall, it takes years – often up to three – to change the behaviors, practices, and habits so that they become the new standards to run the business. Once theses cultural standards become common place they just become “the way we do things around here,” which is a simple definition of culture and the culture change necessary to execute a new strategy successfully.

I want to empower my employees to challenge leadership thinking/perceptions. How do I do this?

Most organizations are better off when there is constructive and rigorous debate about the key issues the company is trying to address and the strategies it is trying to bring to life. It leads to the best ideas being surfaced and the obstacles being addressed early and head-on rather than late while putting out fires. There are three things that get in the way of employees challenging leadership thinking that are important for leaders to keep in mind.

The first is the issue of feeling safe in expressing an individual’s opinion without repercussions or consequence. If a person has an idea that challenges the status quo, an existing process, or belief and if there is a real or perceived fear that expressing that belief will be career limiting, then that person will play it safe and not contribute their best thinking. So be sure when asking for feedback that you set the right tone organizationally of what you are looking for and establish safety zones in those instances.

The second issue is one of creating an environment where you don’t have to be THE expert or the smartest person in the room in order to have a valid opinion. It’s just like in school, when you might have known the answer to a question but didn’t raise your hand because you didn’t want to seem dumb or be the person who doesn’t “get it.” Many employees don’t contribute for the same reason: the content can seem intimidating and no one wants to be “that guy.” Create an environment where people are comfortable expressing their opinion regardless of where they are organizationally by not judging the content too early or too publicly. Just because you have input doesn’t mean you have to act on it all, but you do have to listen authentically, with curiosity and without public judgment.

Lastly, companies often struggle with effective vehicles or forums to drive real conversations and feedback. You might be using the obligatory employee survey that is sure to be somewhat generic other than the few scathing zingers in the write-in section that were anonymously thrown out there by the very disgruntled that tick you off and are likely to not be very representative. Explore where and how your organization is comfortable having dialogue and conversations. This could be in the lunch room, in online forums, or at breakouts in larger team gatherings. Find what works most effectively in your organization and make a conscious effort to truly listen. People will then contribute – since most individuals want to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

Get your questions answered!

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