In prior columns, I’ve talked about an execution gap in organizations—the gap between setting a goal and achieving it. To close the execution gap, leaders must practice four disciplines of execution: focus on the wildly important goal, create a compelling scoreboard, translate lofty goals into action and hold everyone accountable all the time.
For most workers, organizational and team goals are somewhat lofty. It’s easy to lose sight of the higher or strategic purpose. A clear goal and a scoreboard help a lot, but people must also get help in deciding what they are supposed to do about the goal.
I live in Utah, a beautiful but dry country where farmers must irrigate their crops. If you walk along a sprinkler line on a farm, you might notice lush, green growth near the first sprinkler head, but sparse and yellow growth toward the end of the line. Unless the farmer regulates the pressure in the pipes, there is little flow left for the plants furthest from the source.
The same is true in an organization. So many leaders proclaim lofty strategic goals from headquarters, only to find those goals are never implemented at the front line where the work really gets done. The water fails to get to the end of the row.
How big is this problem? FranklinCovey recently asked more than 12,000 U.S. workers in hundreds of organizations to respond to this question: “Which statements are true about my organization’s direction?”
- My organization has a clear and compelling purpose.
- My organization has a clear strategic direction.
- I clearly understand the reasons for the strategic direction. Our organizational goals are clearly connected to my organization’s mission and strategy.
- I clearly understand what I am supposed to do to help achieve my organization’s goals.
Only 23 percent of the respondents agreed that all of these statements were true for them. This means more than three-fourths of U.S. workers are unclear about organizational mission and goals—and what they are individually supposed to do about them.
The consequences? Firms fail to meet market expectations, leaders face frustration in moving important initiatives forward, and in many cases, things get completely out of hand.
Leadership is far more than the proclamation of a lofty goal. It also means ensuring that each person on the front line knows exactly what to do to achieve the goal. The answer to the question, “What do I do about it?” is found in identifying new or better behaviors that will ensure execution of the goal. The principle is this: Goals we have never achieved before require that we do things we have never done before.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York once set a lofty goal of making people feel safe in New York City again. New York’s reputation as a dangerous and intimidating place was driving away tourism and business. Instead of doing the same things others had tried, the mayor’s team asked themselves what they could do differently to realize the goal quickly and with relatively little effort.
One of the first and last impressions of New York for anyone visiting the city was the “squeegee operators” who frequented the tunnels and bridges of the city. They spit on car windows and wiped them with dirty rags, then demanded payment for “cleaning the windows.” Because this activity is not illegal, the city was helpless to stop it—until one of the mayor’s counselors pointed out that jaywalking is illegal. The mayor directed the police to cite the squeegee operators for jaywalking. The police soon found that the squeegee people usually were wanted for more serious violations. In no time, the entrances to New York City were much more inviting. (For more information, read Giuliani’s “Leadership” from Hyperion.)
To identify the new or better behaviors needed to achieve key goals, meet with your team and explore these questions:
Where in your organization or elsewhere are people consistently achieving their goals? What are the key behaviors these superior performers consistently engage in?
How could we adopt these behaviors and make them general throughout the organization?
Imagine—what might be the most impactful thing we could do to achieve the key goal?
Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D., is co-founder of FranklinCovey, a leading global professional services firm. Stephen is also the author of the best-selling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” E-mail Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.