Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or a manager of a small team, execution is at the center of your success.
However, just because it's essential doesn't mean we do it well or know precisely what it is.
Execution is simply the carrying out of a plan, order, or course of action. After studying and coaching high-performing and low-performing leaders, the gap between goals and outcomes is execution.
The gap between goals and outcomes is execution.
The loftier the goals, the more difficult they are to achieve, so the execution gap is never truly eliminated. The highest performing leaders understand they aren't trying to eliminate the gap; they are working relentlessly to shrink the gap through elite execution.
Many external factors like a rapidly changing economy, technological advancements, hybrid-work environments, and multi-generations in the workforce make executing at the highest level more challenging than ever.
When looking at internal factors, almost all execution failure comes down to leadership. Execution expert Monte Pedersen on a recent episode of The John Eades podcast, said, "leaders today must be execution accelerators and create a culture of execution."
To shrink the execution gap, requires leaders to take ownership, translate strategy, and use time and attention to their advantage. Unfortunately, it turns out most managers aren't doing it well.
Research by Forbes found that 82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization is effective at strategic planning. Only 14% indicated to be effective at implementing the strategy. If that wasn't sobering enough, Harvard Business Review found only 16% of top leaders were rated as very effective at either strategy or execution, and only 8% were effective at both.
This execution thing is challenging not just for a few but for many. So if you are looking for ways to improve your team's execution, here are a few pillars of effective execution to evaluate.
The best leaders constantly look for ways to shrink the execution gap between their goals and outcomes. Here are five pillars to help you.
Every great team is clear about its purpose, and in Building the Best, I called it the purpose trifecta. Its name comes from horse racing, where a bettor can make a wager on the outcome of a race through a trifecta bet. The bettor must have all three horses picked- who will finish first, second and third in the correct order. If the horses do this, the best yields a higher payout than any other form of wager in the sport.
The same is true for clarifying a purpose to lay the foundation for effective execution. The purpose trifecta is made up of values, vision, and mission. These tend to be evergreen and rarely falter because the strategy may change, but the purpose will not.
The strategy may change, but the purpose won't.
Clarifying these three cornerstones will increase your odds of team buy-in and successful execution.
The verb form of the word team means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Setting a clear goal for your team is instrumental in attaining your mission and vision. However, the team is far more likely to succeed if the goal is specific and each team member gets behind it. Research by Dr. Gail Matthews found people are 42% more likely to achieve a goal if it's written down.
Have a stretch goal for your team that has a deadline. I use a formula in our leadership workshops that's simple:
Clear objective + Completion Date + Carrot = Team Goal
The fastest path to improve execution is defining the targets for your team or individuals.
Once we have a stretch goal defined, planning and strategy enter the picture. For a football coach, this would be their game plans, playbook, and formations. For a sales manager, this would be their messaging, compensation plans, sales process, and targeting of accounts.
Monte Pedersen believed strategy is where most managers make mistakes. He said, "The #1 cause of execution failure from leaders is they don't effectively translate strategy across the organization or team."
Pederson is right because executing without a plan or strategy is nothing more than hoping success will happen. While it's possible success does happen, it certainly won't have any consistency.
Execution without a plan or strategy is nothing more than hoping success will happen.
Using performance management tools like Peoplebox to house OKRs or Asana to track tasks and actions is essential in the modern workplace to be clear on planning and strategy, so it bleeds into execution.
Mike Tyson famously said, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." One of the critical pillars of execution is knowing that plans will change, and making modifications at the moment is essential. Leaders who are slow to adjust or pivot will be left behind and will hold their team back from being successful.
Adjusting, pivoting, and being flexible are requirements for leaders to be successful today.
If that wasn't enough, if you are going to create a culture of execution, you can't let things go beyond the moment of impact. For example, if someone on a team is failing to meet the team's execution standards, they must know. The longer leaders let it slide, the longer it will take to recover.
Have the courage to modify the plan based on new information and be willing to communicate with your team when they fall short.
Many organizations fail to properly allocate resources (time, people, money) to implement strategies successfully. This causes teams to splinter and go at different speeds and in alternative directions.
To counter this, yearly, quarterly, and monthly alignment sessions or what some call "strategic planning sessions" are essential. These dedicated times allow leaders to work on the business as much as in the business. To take a step back with their team to identify where they need to start, stop, or continue doing.
Regardless of your role, execution is at the center of your success. Ideas are great, but action will always be more important. If you focus on these five pillars, you will be on your way to shrinking the gap between your goals and optimal outcomes.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.