Engaging People to Execute: Think of it as a Process

Jim Haudan
Chief Executive Office
Root

In sports or business, winning isn’t automatic just because you buy, recruit, or develop great talent. Performance and execution are as much tied to a process as to gifted talent. If that’s the case, why do most business leaders abandon a process approach in executing strategy?

When I was a consultant, my team focused on developing client employees’ knowledge of the marketplace and how their businesses worked. We soon realized that business acumen made a difference, but sustained results required more. In organizations where strategy was truly being executed, we found a common point: Engaging people in executing strategy was viewed as a process that was owned by the senior team. In most companies, no one person or team is accountable for executing strategy. We wanted to more deeply understand how organizations that approach strategically engaging people as a process were doing this. These companies were clearly addressing the responsibilities of leaders, managers, and individuals. So we came up with this matrix:

Create a Line of Sight, a clear comprehension of business systems and their link to company strategy.

For leaders, this means creating a common systems view – a mental picture that means the same thing to everyone. No one can execute strategy unless they agree on the meaning of the words.

  • We’ve often spoken the word “bear” and asked clients to tell us what it means. We hear “grizzly,” “naked,” and “market.” When we suggest that they “execute ‘bear,’” the point becomes obvious – the meaning is far from clear.

For managers, this means interpreting strategy consistently. Managers must understand the strategy and then translate it in a way that’s relevant to every employee.

For individual contributors, this means understanding organizational and team strategies. Unless people see the connections between company strategy and their role, they rarely take ownership or change behaviors.

Connect Goals of each person and team to overall company goals.

For leaders, this means promoting ownership – owning business goals before their own function’s goals.

For managers, this means coordinating team efforts with corporate goals. Managers must routinely talk about company goals and how team goals support them.

  • Most people become managers because they have been star employees. In an orchestra, the head violinist’s job is to be the best violinist possible, but the conductor must draw out the best from every musician. Most managers try to conduct the orchestra by furiously playing their violins.

For individual contributors, this means connecting individual efforts to the strategic goals of the company. People need to know that their contributions make a significant difference.

Develop Capabilities to execute the company strategy at all levels.

For leaders, this means cultivating aligned behaviors. Supporting strategy requires changed behaviors at all levels – especially the top.

For managers, this means enhancing engagement of people and teams. Managers must translate strategy into activities that are relevant to employees.

For individual contributors, this means developing skills. Employees need to develop new abilities that directly support strategy execution.

  • Most companies hit a roadblock in getting people to take action in areas that are unfamiliar. The solution is to allow them to practice in a safe environment before they engage in actions that put them personally at risk.

To see how well your company is executing strategy through people, answer “yes” or “no” to these questions:

  1. Are your people ready, willing, and able to execute your strategies?
  2. Do leaders share a consistent view and interpretation of the strategy?
  3. Do leaders put the good of the company ahead of their functions?
  4. Do the behaviors of the leadership team support the strategy?
  5. Do managers communicate strategy clearly and consistently?
  6. Do managers review progress on goals with their people?
  7. Do managers align their teams’ efforts to the company strategy?
  8. Does the front line understand the marketplace and the strategy?
  9. Can the front line connect their contributions to company goals?
  10. Are opportunities to learn relevant skills available to everyone?

If most of your answers are “yes,” you have many of these steps in your sights. Now it’s time to more consciously connect and manage them as a process.