Riding the waves of success until suddenly the environment changes

Drake Editorial Team

When was the last time you and your executive team looked in the mirror at yourselves?

Vision, Strategy and Execution…what needs to happen within an organization to ensure its people are enabled -- and capable of executing? Why does most execution fail? Presidents of Enterprising Organizations (PEO) in Toronto, Canada state that execution’s problems have yet to be resolved successfully in North America because synergies between Vision, Strategy and Execution remain a primary business challenge.

PEO has heard hundreds of leaders describe this fundamental problem with comments like, “We’ve been executing our strategic objectives with mediocre performance.” or “We’ve been lucky with the economic environment – until two years ago.” It’s so puzzling: one executive said: “There have been no real breakthroughs in our performance even though we’ve hired the smartest people and our vision is timeless and reflects what we want to be.”

They may have hired the smartest people and their vision may be timeless, but the vital connection between Vision, Strategy and Execution has been missed. The result is business performance that remains stagnant.

The CEO’s responsibility is the organization’s future – reinforcing the vision, resetting when necessary, and creating a path to move on the journey. For breakthrough growth, the CEO and Executive Team need to create the organization’s strategic objectives together – really looking at what needs to be done to ensure all decisions and communications are aligned and everyone is continually marching towards the vision. Like the CEO, the executive team is great at communicating to the organization – they are patient, understanding, they spend hours working on the objectives, and the ‘why’ is never left out in the communication.

The goals/tactics are well defined and aligned to the strategic objectives. They are short in duration, typically less than a year, and are constantly reviewed and adapted to continue moving towards strategic objectives.

Strong teams believe Superior Strategy, Execution and Corporate Performance are the result of certain conditions that must be present. These include teams taking on challenging goals and accountability to each other -- and a receptivity to change incorporating a desire for innovation that produces high quality solutions. Leaders must also make decisions with significant collaboration by trusting one another and sharing constructively. That’s what excellent execution is all about.

The following findings are based on PEO’s first-hand experience:Most leaders believe executive teams and their organizational culture are working. They carry out 360s, performance reviews and measure engagement. They understand all the puzzle pieces and believe they’ve got it right. But when they perform poorly, they are slow to react and rarely consider whether they are still heading towards the timeless vision. Something is amiss.

Here is an example: the CEO determines the organization will build out the company geographically. The VP of Strategy and the executive team spend hours determining the strategy and what immediate goals must be made over the next year. Once completed they explain the strategy and actions to the employees – they take the necessary time – they even answer the questions...BUT. What happens? The employees go out and become what Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, has called Choiceless Doers. No options….just following orders. Does that sound familiar? Avoidance sets in. Why should anyone tell the boss that the strategy doesn’t make sense? Instead, it’s easier to keep heads down. The result is to be expected. Employees continually return to comfort zones and conventional thinking. These attributes work counter to the identified ideal behaviours and attitudes.

In continuing discussions with top executives, PEO has learned that very few understand how to drive needed behavioural changes. Stating the desired attitudes comes easily, but not the road map. When was the last time you fully understood the outlooks driving your organization? When was the last time you examined the attitudes and performance within your executive team?

A 360 fails to accomplish this. It’s not performance related. Engagement scores also do not identify the barriers to improvement. The solution lies in effecting real change in the leader and his team’s behaviour. These ripple through the organization. This time it’s about how the ‘why’ around strategy is communicated and what people believe it means to them.

Change must start from the top. Change must be collaborative but it begins in the C suite and filters its way down. No one else can do it. What leaders do impacts 60 per cent of an organization’s culture. It starts with the top group’s influence on the executive team. It must permeate every corner of the organization before it gets to those who must carry it out. That is the separation between vision, strategy and execution. Bring them closer together and there is success. Separate them, and vision does not matter at all, nor does strategy. To paraphrase that famous political war cry: it’s the execution, stupid. It’s the beginning, the middle and the end of vision and strategy.


By Leon Goren, C.A., president, Presidents of Enterprising Organizations. Reprinted with the permission of Presidents of Enterprising Organizations (PEO). PEO is committed to driving executive performance through the right Connections, Thinking and Growth. PEO’s vision is to improve the way leaders lead. For more information visit www.peo.net. 

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