If You Only Had Some Heart: Passion in Strategy Execution
In March, 2015 Harvard Business Review published an article, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It”. As the article and studies highlight, more than 400 Global CEOs say this is their #1 challenge, above; growth, innovation and the 80 other issues on their plate. The authors further reflect upon their study across 7K+ managers, 260+ companies and 30 industries, which produced 5 myths:
Myth 1: Execution Equals Alignment
Myth 2: Execution Means Sticking to the Plan
Myth 3: Communication Equals Understanding
Myth 4: A Performance Culture Drives Execution
Myth 5: Execution Should Be Driven from the Top
The authors bring a great deal of supporting studies and examples of how these points are myths to execution failure it is a good read in itself. I must say, I agree with these myths, BUT it doesn’t take into account passion and some characteristics in a strategy that help avoid some of the challenges with execution.
I can boil down the failures in executing strategy into one word. That word is“Heart”.
Clearly, a well thought out strategy for a business is the “guiding beacon” for the business. All too often, a C-Suite team gathers in a remote location with a team of consultants, and they beat out the strategy before day 2 of golf. Rarely are customers, stockholders or employees engaged in this process. It is typically a fairly insulated process.
Customers, stockholders, employees and competition should feed these strategy sessions. Unfortunately, the C-suite team typically decides upon a direction and goal, but rarely acknowledges the employees are the ones to EXECUTE it. The strategy dictates goal, and the supporting tactical goals tell us the direction we must travel to get there. But we rarely determined where we, as a TEAM are today. The planning and strategic phase of the plan is insulated from the factors that will determine its success. Do we go North, South, or Northeast 2 steps to get to Point A? If this map and directions are not carefully considered; employees will miss the message. If the “Heart” is not found to stimulate a teams passion as human beings, the TEAM will not even move.
All to often, “Heart” is missed in the Execution of Strategy, because the team is treated as a machine. While it can be measured like a machine, its cogs are human beings with passions and motivations. Is heart, or the lack thereof the root cause to many of these areas of Execution Failure?
Myth 1: Execution Equals Alignment? If the proper tactical goals to support the strategy took into account heart, the employees would begin to personally identify with the goals themselves and activate their passions to deliver. With heart, alignment begins to occur. Can the Strategy and Goal be personal? If not, there are problems.
Myth 2: Execution Means Sticking to the Plan? If heart was instilled into the plan, the plan is sensitized to adjust based on the progress of the team. If it doesn’t adjust, it can become stale and lifeless.
Myth 3: Communication Equals Understanding Communication is critical, but we know it must be 2 way. Employees can tell if the C-Level is talking the talk without walking the walk, or not displaying a passion for the strategy. If the employees don’t “feel” the passion from the leaders and see the walk, they may fully understand. Employee feedback is more than just surveys, if they don’t feel a part of it, they just don’t buy in.
Myth 4: A Performance Culture Drives Execution I love high performance teams. Typically member of high performance teams are some of your brightest, which means they are hyper sensitive to Myth 3. If you lose one team members buy in, it can be a cancer to the rest of the team. Our military’s motto really applies here, “No one left behind!”
Myth 5: Execution Should Be Driven from the Top Everyone must drive strategies and tactics. Face it, C-Levels don’t execute, teams execute! Their energy, passion, and heart drive results. Strategies must apply to the entire team. If they don’t, they are probably wrong and likely wont lead to the best results.
I don’t think executives even need to look for the heart of the team. If the executive is sincerely passionate and engaged about the strategy and direction, their passions will become contagious. It will become internally viral.
You can search all over for scholarly articles and management tactics around Strategic Execution. You’ll find plenty of lists: 3 ways, 4 Disciplines, and 8 Success Factors. You will find very little about heart, or passion.
People want to come to work with passion. They want to be a part of something that drives them. They like to enjoy work (40-50% of awake hours). They want to make customers happy. They want to produce goods and services they are proud of. They want to be a valuable part of a system, and they want to be heard.
It is the executive team’s responsibility to align the strategies and tactics to the heart of the employees. It’s heart that drives the passion to execute. This takes more gut than intellect. Find the heart, the execution of strategy that people are passionate about is unstoppable.