How To Improve Your Execution And Reach Your Goals
At the start of every year, many of us make bold promises to change our lives. We get a gym membership and decide we’ll have those abs by summer. But then February rolls around, and we’re as gym-shy as we were in December. Why is that? Quite simply, it’s because we fail when it comes to execution.
The same is true for companies. Being capable of change is what makes companies succeed – but changing requires execution. So how do you do it?
There are four methods you can try to improve your execution and reach your goals. We aren’t talking about screaming at your employees or implementing draconic strictures. If you learn to incorporate these methods into your company it will become clear what your most important goals really are and you’ll succeed in one of the most difficult things there is: changing people’s behavior.
Change is good, especially from a business standpoint. Why? Well, look at it this way: If you aren’t always improving, you’re creating an opportunity for your competition to swoop in. Preventing that is a big challenge.
Even though there are an infinite number of possible growth strategies, there are only two ways to execute those strategies: with the stroke of a pen or by changing human behavior. Of course, stroke-of-the-pen actions are easy for executives. All they have to do is sign a paper and then someone, somewhere, will take care of the rest.
But these are normally quick-fix actions. Lasting change, on the other hand, requires people to alter their behavior. That’s where most executives come up short – and not surprisingly. Anyone who’s ever stopped smoking or gone on a diet will concur: change is hard. And these examples only involve changing yourself. Changing others is even harder!
After all, your staffers might not understand the company goal or have a clear sense of how changing their behavior will help achieve that goal. Alternatively, they might simply not care.
At first glance, it may seem like there are easy fixes to these problems. You could just hand out detailed descriptions of company goals, be precise about each team member’s responsibilities and fire anyone who doesn’t care. But the heart of the problem is far more complex.
All of these problems and decisions are called the whirlwind – a term use to describe the daily tasks that take up your time and drain your creative energy. The whirlwind is the biggest foe of change. Imagine you spend an hour persuading someone to make certain changes; meanwhile, they’re busy thinking about the ten urgent things that need to be taken care of ASAP.
Although it’s difficult, you can achieve major strategic goals despite the whirlwind. Mastering the the art of execution makes it easier.
1. Focus solely on what matters.
We understand the instinct to strive to do more. Since most executives are overachievers, they are particularly motivated in this respect. But the more you try to do, the less you’ll be able to focus on and put effort into individual tasks. If you want to achieve something truly excellent, you have to concentrate on it.
Accordingly, your strategy should prioritize one or two Wildly Important Goals (WIGs), which you can pursue from within the whirlwind.
Cutting costs by 20 percent by the end of the year is one example of a WIG, but here’s a general rule of thumb when you’re coming up with these goals: WIGs should be specific and have a huge impact on your team’s performance.
Specificity is especially important because a WIG shouldn’t function like a vision or a mission statement. Rather, it’s about outlining a clear goal that the whole team will work toward.
To understand why specificity can be so powerful, consider this story: In 1958, NASA operated under the vague goal of expanding “human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and in space.” But that changed, in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy publicly called on the agency to put a man on the moon and then return safely to Earth before the end of the decade. And that’s how, with one clear goal and a defined time-frame, Neil Armstrong ended up setting foot on the moon on July 21, 1969.
As the NASA example makes clear, it’s important to find WIGs that make a major impact. You don’t want to use up all your blood, sweat and tears on something that doesn’t really make a difference for your company.
2. Meet your goals by choosing measures that reflect current behavior.
As we learned previously, you have to focus on achieving wildly important goals. And to do so, you should concentrate on measures that help you win, not measures that make you depressed when you come up short.
This is easier said than done, since most people naturally focus on lag measures. To clarify, lag measures reflect past performance, showing your position relative to your goal. Profit margins and customer satisfaction rankings are examples of lag measures.
And although concentrating on those measures is natural, it does little to help you achieve your goal. The point is, these indicators reflect past events you can no longer change, which is why focusing on them can be disheartening.
For instance, let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. It’s not a great idea to wait until the end of the month to jump on the scale and measure the result. Because if you don’t meet your goal, you’ll feel like a loser. And, by that point, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.
This is why, to achieve your wildly important goals, you should instead focus on lead measures. In contrast to lag measures, lead measures reflect current behavior, meaning you can still influence them to help meet your goal.
With the losing weight scenario, calorie counts and exercise metrics would be great lead measures, since they’re predictive of the weight-loss goal. After all, if you monitor your diet and exercise, you’ll most likely lose weight. Furthermore, these are two factors you have direct control over.
Of course, we all know that the path to weight loss involves eating less junk food and exercising more. But knowing and doing are two different things. And you’re more likely to actually follow through on your plans when you keep track of lead measures, since these metrics show you how your current actions directly influence your goal.
3. Motivate your team by keeping score of their performance
With the first two method, you define your wildly important goal and identify which metrics will help you achieve it. The third method is about helping your staffers identify with the goal, thereby motivating them to help you achieve it!
To that end, you should have your team keep score of team-member performance. This will improve performance, because, after all, everyone likes winning. And people instantly become more engaged when there’s a victory at stake. Accordingly, keeping score is a way of activating that game-face energy and motivation.
For instance, when you watch kids playing football in the park, you can probably tell right away whether they’re keeping score – the way they cheer for every touchdown is all the information you need!
And that’s why your team should create some kind of scoreboard tracking each person’s progress on the WIG. Whether you use a sophisticated online tool or an old-school chalkboard, the point is to show everyone how they’re performing.
Since motivation is the goal of the scoreboard, you should make sure it’s comprehensible and also easy for your employees to manage autonomously. It should also include lead and lag measures, along with essential information about where the team should be and where it is in reality. With all this information clearly laid out, every team member must be able to tell, at a glance, whether they’re winning or losing.
Let’s say that increasing production by 20 percent by year’s end is one of your WIGs. And to meet that goal, your team has to increase production by five percent each month. Your scoreboard should show lag and lead measures related to this specific goal, so your team knows how they’re actually performing.
4. Establishing a culture of accountability.
With the third method, we learned how to motivate staffers to be part of your wildly important goals. But the fourth method is the real heart of the execution process: It’s about making team members commit long-term to the goal.
And in order for that to happen, your employees have to be accountable to each other – not just to you. No one wants to disappoint their peers, so staffers will feel a greater sense of responsibility if they have to answer to their colleagues, too.
That’s why holding regular WIG meetings will ensure a lasting commitment to the goals. These gatherings should include:
- an overview of the commitments from last week,
- a review of the scoreboard and
- a plan for the following week.
These meetings will guarantee steady progress toward the WIG, since every team member will be responsible for setting and meeting weekly commitments that have an impact on the lead measures.
It’s important to allow staffers to choose their commitments themselves, so they are engaged in the process. As team leader, your role is simply to make sure that commitments are specific and directly connected to the WIG.
Valet parking services company, Town Park, offers a great example of how this works in action. Team leaders decided on the WIG of increasing customer satisfaction. To this end, they identified “reducing retrieval time” (i.e. the amount of time between a customer’s call for a car and the valet’s delivery of it) as an important lead measure. By focusing on this metric, the valets came up with an innovative solution: They would rotate cars from the back of the parking lot to the front whenever they knew a customer would soon be calling for it.
Executing strategic goals requires changing people’s behavior in the midst of a whirlwind of urgent daily tasks. But to execute their vision across the organization, company leaders should focus on just one or two strategic goals and useful key measures.