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Richard Lepsinger

Quality Insider

10 Ways to Help Your Employees Get It Done Every Day

How to start an “execution revolution”

Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 23:00

Companies frequently develop vision and mission statements about being No. 1 in their industry, the great service they provide to customers, and their rewarding work environment. More often than not, these statements are so far from reality that they become joke fodder for customers and employees alike. Your company really can keep the promises you make, but first you must create a culture of execution.

Creating a culture of execution begins with the knowledge that developing plans and strategic initiatives is just the starting point. It also requires adopting the mindset that a highly skilled and engaged work force, while important, won’t ensure effective execution.

Many leaders have a blind spot in this area. They either believe that their job is setting the direction, and execution is the responsibility of lower-level managers, or they assume that if they clearly communicate an exciting vision of the future to an engaged work force, everything else will fall into place.

A survey conducted by OnPoint Consulting shows how widespread the problem of ineffective execution is. Almost half of those surveyed believe there’s a gap between their organization’s ability to develop a vision and strategy and its ability to execute that strategy, and 64 percent lack confidence that the gap can be closed.

Still, companies can make a conscious effort to close the execution gap. You simply have to take some tried and true steps to creating a “get it done” culture. For example:

Recognize that execution starts with a plan
A solid plan can immensely improve the efficiency with which a project is carried out. It facilitates the organization and coordination of related work activities, prevents operational delays and bottlenecks in work processes, helps people avoid duplication of effort, and helps employees set priorities and meet deadlines. It also helps you prepare for potential problems before they happen so that one snag in the system doesn’t throw everyone completely off course. Remember that the best and most useful plans are flexible starting points that can be easily changed to address new needs or challenges as you encounter them.

Ensure plans are aligned and coordinated across the organization
A common snafu at many organizations is that the head of one department will implement a new initiative without considering how it will affect the overall company or specific departments. When a New York-based mutual insurance and financial services company realized it wasn’t going to meet certain financial goals, division heads focused on cutting expenses in their individual departments. Unfortunately, they didn’t develop operational plans that were compatible across the organization or that helped coordinate the day-to-day activities required to achieve overall business objectives.  In fact, these individual cuts made it difficult to maintain support and service to internal customers.

When the CEO became aware of the problem, he worked with his executive team to clarify cross-organizational initiatives that were priorities for the entire company. Then each divisional leader identified the specific cost-reduction targets for his or her division that would support the achievement of the corporate objectives and initiatives while not inhibiting the ability of other departments to achieve their goals.

Clarify, clarify, clarify
It’s difficult getting something done when people don’t understand their roles, responsibilities, or exactly what’s expected of them. One reason employees aren’t always clear on what they should be doing and when is because their manager assumed that they would understand what to do. Another common problem is that managers fear they might insult an employee’s intelligence by stating what seems obvious to them. Finally, some leaders may simply believe they’re too busy to spell things out, not realizing the possible consequences of failing to do so.

Don’t underestimate the importance of taking time to make certain that everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to be done. Clearly communicating roles and responsibilities and checking for understanding is never a wasted effort.

Establish clear expectations
Goals help everyone focus on important activities and responsibilities. They encourage people to find more efficient ways to do the work. They also facilitate constructive performance feedback by ensuring that managers and direct reports or team members have a shared picture of expected outcomes. Setting specific performance goals or task objectives is also an important form of clarifying. Performance improves because specific objectives guide effort toward the most productive activities, and challenging objectives tend to energize a higher level of effort.

Goals should be set even for tasks that can’t be measured easily. It’s much easier to measure an improvement in sales than it is to measure an improvement in service quality or customer satisfaction. Although some goals may be difficult to quantify, all goals can be verified. You’ll know if you are meeting your service-quality goals by looking at improvements in responsiveness, problem handling, on-time performance, and product availability. The only way to improve the way you’re doing your job is to set clear, measurable goals and constantly monitor your success in those areas.

Monitor—don’t micromanage—your entrepreneurial employees
Your entrepreneurial employees—those who take individual initiative and do an effective job without much direction from you—are the gems that make your company special. Just because you feel like you can let them loose with a project or client doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow up with them periodically. In fact, when you empower employees in this way, monitoring becomes even more important.

As your employees take on new roles and responsibilities, they’re using new skills, working in new arenas, and making and implementing decisions that can have a powerful effect on your organization’s success.” You may be concerned they’ll think you’re micromanaging them if you’re keeping an eye on things. Don’t be. When done right, monitoring doesn’t have to feel like micromanaging. Use it as an opportunity to recognize effective behavior, involve your employees in developing meaningful measures of performance, and get their feedback in determining the timing of periodic follow-up meetings. Your efforts will be valued by everyone involved.

Encourage employees to share bad news openly
Getting information from employees can be easier said than done. If there is a problem, mistake, or delay, they may be hesitant to inform you because they fear your reaction or think it will make them look incompetent. Even an employee who isn’t responsible for a problem may be reluctant to report it if he or she is concerned about being on the receiving end of an angry outburst. It’s essential to be careful about how you react to information concerning problems. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Strive always to be constructive and nonpunitive. When an employee presents you with bad news, express appreciation for the accurate information, no matter how negative it may be. Respond quickly to the problem with specific actions to deal with it. Help your employees learn from mistakes collectively rather than singling anyone out.

Balance careful analysis of a problem and decisive action to solve it
Effective leaders move quickly to deal with a threat or problem, and they know they must make an accurate diagnosis of the problem and identify relevant remedies before taking action. Otherwise, they may end up implementing ineffective solutions or solving the wrong problem, both of which can make a situation worse instead of better.

Leaders should always use a systematic, logical analysis to identify the cause of a problem before taking action. Great leaders know when additional information or analysis will only delay action without adding value. To facilitate a rapid, effective response, top performers anticipate potential problems and disruptions and develop contingency plans.

Make decisions as close to the action as possible
The key here is ensuring that decisions are being made where the best information is, in order to increase speed and quality of responsiveness. It’s not uncommon for organizations to swing back and forth from centralizing work and processes to decentralizing as they try to deal with a strategic issue or competitive threat.

Organizational redesign isn’t necessarily the best solution to a competitive or strategic problem. Leaders frequently find that the change just presents a different set of problems and issues. The key is to determine what processes and work would benefit from centralization or decentralization. In addition, if you want to improve the quality of your decisions and gain support for them, involve the people who are closest to the situation as well as those who will be affected by the decision. Involvement early in the decision-making process ensures critical information surfaces in a timely manner and enhances people’s ownership of the outcome.

Facilitate informal, spontaneous interaction among employees
Your employees’ informal relationships are key in getting the job done. The ability to connect with a colleague “in the moment” when you have a problem or new information is essential for effective execution. In today’s fast-paced global businesses, it can be difficult to make these connections.

When people are in the same location, it’s easier to arrange the work space so that employees can easily interact with one another on work and non-work topics. Employees in these organizations can meet up in a break room or kitchen area, but more and more frequently organizations have employees who are working all over the place, whether they’re out in the field or working from home. These global organizations use technology—virtual workspaces, video conferencing, instant messaging, electronic social networks—to provide proximity and access to a dispersed group of people.

Turn your performance management system into a business tool
This system is one of the most important tools leaders have to ensure effective execution. It ensures goals are aligned across levels and work units, helps people know what they need to do and how they need to do it, and allows leaders to monitor progress toward goals. When used effectively, it provides early warning when things are off course and allows time to get back on track. If, however, you view performance management only as an end-of-the-year review along with a form to fill out for human resources, then it won’t help you get things done any more efficiently.

When you put these elements in place at your organization, you’ll see a general improvement in individual, team, and overall organizational ability to execute plans and initiatives. Your employees will start getting their work done more easily and consistently, and these regular wins will encourage them and inspire them to redouble their efforts. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

They’ll focus on being more efficient, retaining customers, responding and acting on customer feedback, and monitoring the quality of their work. One day you’ll look around and realize your mission statement actually rings true, and that’s one of the best feelings you’ll ever have as a leader.

Discuss

About The Author

Richard Lepsinger’s picture

Richard Lepsinger

Richard Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting in the Greater New York City Area, has founded and led consulting firms in human capital and human resources for more than 20 years. The focus of his work has been helping organizations close the gap between strategy and execution. Aside from consulting leaders of major corporations including Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Citibank, Coca-Cola Co., ConocoPhillips, KPMG, Lehman Bros., the New York Stock Exchange, Northwestern Mutual Life, PeopleSoft, Pitney Bowes, Subaru of America, and more, Lepsinger has presented at conferences and authored/co-authored books on formulating/implementing strategic plans, managing change, decision making, 360° feedback and its uses, talent management, developing and using competency models, and integrating leader/management roles for organizational effectiveness.