You could be an activist or a coder or a leader responsible for the success of your organization’s strategic priority. All of us, have been in situations, when doing the “right’ thing is the obvious choice. Yet, it seems, with all the literature on the subject of execution excellence and how to successfully convert strategy into results, we continue to struggle with doing the “right” thing, the “right” way! With digital transformation affecting small and big players across industries and the world at large, and many betting their future on implementing the transformation dream, the price of a poorly executed strategy is exorbitant, almost life-threatening.
Einstein said, “stupidity is doing the same things and expecting different results!” and I wonder, with the world full of intelligent and resourceful people, why do we keep doing the “right” things, wrong?
Well, I am no Einstein nor do I claim to have seen the whole world, but I have spent a substantial part of my career running large and small talent transformation programs, and I have inferred a few insights on how might we do the right thing, right.
Now, many of us have practiced the glorified principles of project and program management. Planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling with an overdose of risk and financial management defines a typical day of a person charged with converting strategy into reality. If you are that person, in-charge of making things happen, and you want to push the envelope to move from good to great in doing things right, here are my 5 insights. When practiced, there is a high probability that you will be effective in achieving outcomes and do the right things, right!
1. Transition quickly from a group to a team. People are at the core of doing things right and many of us go so wrong in managing this aspect. Everyone knows that getting a team that compliments you as a leader is staffing 101 however once we get the smartest folks together we refuse to listen to them…does this sound familiar? Well you are not alone. I have seen so many leaders recruiting externally, or internally moving the brightest minds and then beat them up to follow the way its-done-here! So, my 1st insight is all around “managing” people and their expectations with respect to an initiative.
a. Show the BIG picture and inspire your team to think big. Someone said, if you cant dream it, then you cant do it…now your team cannot dream if you constraint them all the time with tactical, right-now, right-here issues only. Allow the mind-parachute to open. Show them how their work is linked to the outcome. Allow them to explore and experiment as they solve challenges.
b. Respect experience and pay special attention to the views and ideas of those with battle-scars. They usually have the best view to the failure modes and how to mitigate them. This wisdom can help you proactively mitigate risks, help save time in rework or simply do things first-time-right.
c. Make them feel special. I have seen managers worked-up about their teams shining brighter than them. I have only one advice, don’t make this about you. Its about the team and making them feel valued. Your success lies in your ability to make each person understand the end-game, make them accountable for their contribution and empower them to do things that will make them succeed. Create visibility for your team.
d. Be flexible. There is no one way when it comes to getting best out of your team. For some its monitoring day to day action, for others its simply getting out of the way and keeping an oversight. Know you people and adapt your leadership style to their needs.
2. Create space for disagreements. People matter and their opinions too. Am sure you have seen people, who in the spirit of collaboration, seek counter views, however some where during the discussion you see them suffering from confirmation bias. I don’t think anything else kills team spirit and a sense of co-ownership, than to be asked for views and yet, at end of the discussion, there is no change to the initial hypothesis! If you want to do the right thing, make sure you allow “why”, “what-if”, “why not” and “how to” questions to blossom in your discussions. When people disagree with you, remember, its not about you as a person but your views or suggestions. Make a conscious effort to give comfort to others to share their views without the fear of judgment. Listen to understand not to defend.
3. Never forget you are a design thinker. Herb Simon said everyone designs who works on converting current realities into preferred ones. Being a design thinker implies that you are constantly observing human behaviour, analyzing information & developing solutions to change current realities. You are driven by the principles of iteration, curiosity, imagination and collaboration. One of the most powerful concepts of human-centered innovation, is to “make-test-learn”. Someone once told me, “don’t let best come in the way of better”. This is such a powerful advice! We all are guilty of falling in love with our ideas, as teams and even as individuals. As long as, we take an iterative, inclusive approach to move from concept to solution, with a clear bias to what matters to the end users, we should be good. Have an obsession to solve for end customer’s needs. Empathy is key.
4. Celebrate success, openly reflect on failures and offer support to remove roadblocks. With so much written about the celebrating small & big wins and learning from mistakes, many program managers know about this, but don’t put consistent, measurable effort towards it. I have seen leaders who do this as a rule every week with their teams and reap benefits of pride and collective wisdom from it. Keeping the interaction simple and short is the moot point. Recognize resilience of team members and offer support when they share learnings. An empowered, high-performing team does not need you to do their job, they need you to ask “how might I help you succeed?” and then to follow through on your commitment, to have their back and provide air-cover.
5. Technology is not just for making fancy project plans, its much, much more. I have seen successful large-scale programs managed only through phone calls, excel sheets and emails. When used well even the simplest technology solution can be powerful. When you become a slave to it, that’s when the problem starts! Use tech wisely and not at the cost of personal connect or even as an excuse to avoid listening to your intuition or that of others. Compliment it to see though your mind’s eye and leverage it to work smarter. Connect, collaborate and co-create using technology. Its the biggest enabler in doing the right thing, right!
I am sure there are many more practical insights for converting visionary strategy to relentless execution. Do share your experiences. As they say, together everyone achieves more.
Yours in Learning!
VP Capability Development