Leadership Puzzler: Execution at Its Best

leadershipAn entrepreneur from last year’s Emerging Leaders class that I teach at the Small Business Administration experienced what most businesses would call “phenomenal growth.” He started by creating what he thought was a workable strategy to achieve the vision he had. The vision was good, but it was the same one he had for many years without much forward momentum towards achieving it. The company had experienced 5-8% growth, but they were barely meeting expenses and the owners were underpaying themselves. They had good people and good products and customers loved them, and still they struggled.

About halfway through the class, the entrepreneur scrapped the entire plan and realized that several major issues or “big rocks,” kept getting in the way. The first item was a clear understanding of roles and what a future org chart would look like, including triggers for hiring. The second was the lack of good dashboards or metrics to measure anything. The last was a lack of a marketing strategy, which led them to take any business that came there way, without clear intention about the kind of business they wanted.

He went back to work and created an entirely new strategic plan, with strategic objectives and goals that made sense. He got the entire leadership team involved and everyone was ready to make it happen. Then he realized that a couple of players on the team needed to go. It became clear to him that if he wanted to do things differently, he needed to stop tolerating underperforming players. Once they were out of the way, the rest of the team started performing above expectations. It’s amazing what happens when you get people in the right seats, or get them off the bus entirely. It’s a game changer.

What I’m happy to report is that the three year strategic plan he created for 2014-17 will be complete as of December of 2014. (Let me be clear that I rarely see a plan work so well.) He is now in the process of creating a new plan as they need a new goal!

What made the difference for this company? Leadership and execution. Leadership to acknowledge what wasn’t working, make the changes necessary to get things on track, and provide the clear vision for the future. Once that was in place, execution of the three strategic priorities with appropriate smart goals was relatively easy. Execution is about continuous monitoring and improvement to make sure things are going according to plan and the willingness to change course when necessary. When we don’t check-in on things and see if we’re really meeting our expectations or goals, it’s about the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. Keep checking, and most importantly, have the right metrics.

The willingness of this CEO to scrap his entire plan halfway through the class and create one that focused on the right “Big Rocks” made the difference between another mediocre year and a phenomenal year. It made a three year plan executable in one year. It’s the time of year for you to be looking at your plan. How did you do? If the answer is “I don’t know” or “not so well,” do a major change and start over. What have you got to lose?