Ideas are easy. Execution is difficult. Much of the time, extremely difficult. Whether you are trying to stand up a high-performing sales organization or an operation that serves clients, execution comes with a set of challenges of its own. Without structure and a few disciplines, you make performance difficult at best, impossible at worst. If you want flawless execution, these six pillars will provide you with structure and a guide to making improvements.
Goals and Outcomes
No one can hit a target they can’t see. Execution starts with goals and outcomes. If you are a sales organization, performance might start with goals around acquiring your dream clients with a certain amount of revenue as the outcome. Without goals and outcomes, people give their attention to things that aren’t important or don’t contribute to your desired results.
The first challenge of execution is clearly defining your goals and outcomes. This first pillar is what provides people with a sense of mission and direction. It guides their efforts towards the goals and outcomes. As a leader, every conversation is an opportunity to speak to your purpose, your goals, your results, and why they are essential.
Operating Plans and Directives
There is always more than one way to do something. What’s most important is that you reach your goal and produce the outcomes that would rise to the level of flawless execution. Your goals and outcomes, however, will require that certain things are done in a specific manner for you to execute flawlessly.
If you lead a sales organization, it’s vital that you acquire and win new opportunities, but it may matter very much how you approach that goal or outcome. If you are high trust, high value, and high caring, a transactional approach breaks your model. If you create a compelling, differentiated level of value as a way to flawlessly execute, you can’t also compete by having the lowest price.
Your operating plans and directives provide guide rails for people to observe. In sales, your processes and methodologies provide operating procedures and directives. In the military, there is a concept called mission command. Mission command means the leader expresses their intent and establishes the operation plan and guidelines, providing guidance, but leaving room for people to improvise if necessary.
KPIs and Metrics
Flawless execution is impossible without key performance indicators and metrics. You must have a way to measure your results that provides both leading and lagging indicators. The mistake some leaders make is focusing on the lagging indicators, ignoring the leading indicators, eliminating the opportunity to make adjustments before they fail to execute.
Leading indicators provide information about what your future holds. As a sales leader, you need key performance indicators and metrics that tell you how many new opportunities your team created, the value of those opportunities, and the likelihood of winning those opportunities. Even though it is out of fashion to look at activity, things like client meetings and proposals are still useful leading indicators.
Lagging indicators provide you with a scorecard of how you are progressing towards your goals and outcomes. Leading indicators allow you to make adjustments that improve future lagging indicators.
All of the pillars here are critical to flawless execution, and most leaders are better on some than others. But if there were one you might point to as being most commonly breached and most detrimental to execution, you couldn’t do better than accountability. Where accountability is missing, execution is impossible.
The leader is responsible for delivering their goals and outcomes. Those who work for that leader are responsible for their team’s portion of those goals and outcomes. The individuals that make up those teams are accountable for the results that deliver their contribution. If you would have flawless execution, there can be no breakdowns in this cascading chain of accountability.
Teams that execute flawlessly communicate. They talk to each other, sharing information and creating a feedback loop that allows them to make adjustments to what they are doing. Whether the communication is a stand up meeting each afternoon, a morning huddle, or a weekly review meeting, they communicate with each other and provide information.
Without communication, execution suffers. In cultures that are not built on execution, people work without communicating with their teams. Because they don’t communicate, problems aren’t surfaced, failures up and downstream persist, and performance suffers. When conversations and challenges are difficult, people may want to avoid communicating, especially in political environments. But without communication, teamwork suffers—as does execution.
Troubleshooting and Adjusting
Execution isn’t easy, which is why flawless execution is so rare. Operating plans and directives rub up against a reality that pokes holes in your strategy and approach. Over time, things break down. Sometimes, one of the pillars on this page needs massive improvement. Whatever the case, you need to troubleshoot your approach and make adjustments. When something isn’t working, working harder isn’t the answer, unless the problem is that you need to work harder.
Success in reaching your goals is never a straight line. It will be necessary that you look carefully at what you are doing that needs to change and make the adjustments that will allow you to produce the results you need.
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