When setting out to develop a strategic plan as part of the annual planning process, it’s crucial for leaders to understand the difference between Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning.
Strategic thinking is done by the leadership team, engaging in discussions defining the companies core ideologies (values and purpose): core customer, brand promise; Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and the 3-5 year targets / winning moves.
Execution planning is about the short-term – what happens within the 12 months, and more specifically, the next quarter (or 13-week period). This involves creating the quarterly goals (rocks).
While both of these functions must include the organization’s leadership team, outstanding results occur when the next level of managers are brought into the execution planning process.
A recent 2-day Annual Planning offsite proved to create outstanding momentum for one of my clients. On the first day, the leadership team focused on strategic thinking. We reviewed the rocks from the previous year and quarter, then developed targets, priorities and critical numbers for the next year and upcoming quarter.
The second day, next level of managers joined the leadership team and developed the details of the 1-year and quarterly priorities. Blended sub-groups worked at flip charts outlining the detailed tasks that needed to occur over the next 13-weeks. Cross-functional “Rock Teams” were formed with members from different functional areas joining together to plan out the tasks and activities that needed to occur for each of the four new company rocks that were created for the quarter.
The effect of this effort created five (5) powerful outcomes:
- The company developed a strong execution plan for Q1.
- The next level of managers felt significant, respected and included.
- Some new hi-potential managers stood out to the delight of the leadership team.
- Action plans were created for communicating to the next (third) level in the organization.
- Accountability and alignment were crystal clear and the company was energized.
Leaders must set the course with strategic thinking, but true wonders occur when their managers are involved in the execution planning process.
We’ve all smiled at the phrase “you know, feedback is a gift”. But the receiver’s defensive reaction(s) can be a significant deterrent, when you are simply trying to be helpful by providing them feedback. This is especially true if the receiver is someone who typically responds with difficult behaviors such as: interrupting, justifying, arguing, or worse, lashing out with brutal attacks. They are often unaware (or even in denial) about their behavior. I refer to these people as B/C Players.
Some leaders of B/C Players will “look the other way” and tolerate these behaviors.
The most common excuses I hear are: “But they’re so productive and produce results”, or,
“I don’t have time to deal with stuff like that”.
I find that B/C Players are usually poison in an organization. They provide obstacles and make it difficult for A Players to thrive. Oftentimes, they are poor examples of living the core values.
Leaders MUST deliver the tough feedback message by doing the following 8 things:
- Collect examples of behavior through first hand observations and interviews with A Players.
- Spend time thinking about how to make your feedback message behavioral (citing the actual behavior).
- Schedule a feedback meeting that is formal and structured.
- Deliver the feedback directly, no sugar-coating.
- Actively listen to the B/C’s point of view, but don’t waiver from yours.
- Be willing to offer coaching.
- Get agreement about behavior change and follow up minimally on a monthly basis.
- Recognize improvements; stay firm if no improvement.
Leaders have an obligation to the organization and to A Players to deal with difficult people on their teams by having these conversations.
Imagine 2 Organizations…
The first is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are open with one another
- Passionately debate important issues
- Commit to clear decisions even if they initially disagree
- Call each other out when their behaviors or performance needs correction
- Focus their attention on the collective good of the organization
The second is led by a leadership team whose members:
- Are guarded and less than honest with one another
- Hold back during difficult conversations
- Feign commitment
- Hesitate to call one another on unproductive behaviors
- Pursue their own agenda rather than those of the greater organization
What steps have you taken to build a higher performing organization where you work?
I’m amazed at how critical meetings and the simplest elements for group communication continues to stymie the organizations that I work with.
I recently spent a day with a client’s leadership team. The following day, we added the next level of management below them to the meeting.
Initially the CEO asked me, “can you bring in the middle managers and facilitate a meaningful conversation among us? There are half a dozen issues on which we’re not aligned, where we have conflict, and where we don’t communicate”.
We ended having an effective day, had a number of good conversations and solved several key issues.
In doing so, we identified the 5 things that an organization must do to be more effective:
- Leaders must become strong facilitators.
- A Leader must create a thoughtful agenda that includes critical conversations with outcomes.
- Teams must gain an appreciation for conflict and passionate debate.
- Team members must develop trust and be authentic with each other.
- Discussions need to come to a close with problems solved and decisions supported by all.
Leaders and organizations can and must learn how to do these things in order to scale and achieve outstanding results.