Six Steps to Better Business Execution / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Many businesses have quality products and services, a realistic strategy, well-defined mission and skilled people.  Yet they can't...

Many businesses have quality products and services, a realistic strategy, well-defined mission and skilled people.  Yet they can't seem to gain traction, deliver consistent results or grow.

So what's up?  In most cases, the problem comes down to this: Execution. Some businesses are structured for results, and the people who run them know how to execute.  "If an organization can't execute, nothing else matters - not the smartest strategy, not the most innovative business model, not even game-changing technology," says Rick Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting and someone who's studied business execution for years.

So how can you make your business the "git-er-done" type rather than the "can't quite git-er-done" variety? Try these six steps:  

1.            Create and Use Action Plans

Action plans are the cornerstone of effective execution. They help you translate broad objectives into specific activities. First clarify your goals. This provides direction for the work and helps determine when a project is complete. A good goal statement is specific, measurable and time bound.

A good action plan helps you manage the workload, review progress and communicate about the work to be done. Its basic components include:  action steps that break down the work to be done into tasks and activities; who's responsible for each step; a schedule with start and completion dates; and resource requirements.

2.    Expect (and Get) Top Performance

You need everyone at your business working at full potential. When we believe people are capable, we treat them like they are capable, and they come to believe it themselves. Too many businesses fall into a "low expectations" mindset. Get rid of it. If you have low performers, focus on what they do well. Set a modest stretch goal that is easily attainable and provide appropriate coaching and support.

Catch people doing something right. Providing recognition for a job well done has a powerful effect on people's ability to execute. It reinforces good work and shapes future behavior.

3.    Hold People Accountable

All business owners know accountability is important, yet many don't hold others accountable. In the heat of the moment it seems easier to just do it yourself or "let it go."  Create an environment that helps others operate at a higher level of responsibility. For example, you can boost accountability by setting people up for success. Three simple actions will help:

  • Clarify expectations. Here's where you explain "what good looks like."
  • Establish clear due dates. Saying things like "as soon as possible" and "by next week" lay the foundation for misunderstandings.  
  • Schedule periodic check-ins. Agree to these upfront and you won't be viewed as a micromanager.  

4.    Involve the Right People in Decisions

Decision-making is a complex activity and there are things you can do to improve the quality of decisions your business makes. First understand what "delegate" truly means. Avoid the "dump and run" approach to delegation as well as the "over-engineered" approach.  Sometimes it's okay to be an autocrat. Other times you need to build consensus. Rather than relying on instinct or going with your gut, try a systematic decision-making process. This helps you avoid letting emotion or bias cloud the issues or simply defaulting to choices you've made in the past.

5.    Build "Change Readiness"

Execution often requires people and processes to change.  One reason businesses fail to execute is that the people who need to step up and get things done have fallen into a pattern of resisting change.  It's far easier to talk about things than actually do them, which can require taking risks. You may need to help employees "talk themselves into" wanting to change. Reinforce "change-talk" within your business whenever and wherever you can. Emphasize that without change, growth can't happen.

6.    Pave the way for Collaboration

Even small businesses can have complex structures with one department relying on others to get things done. That means cooperation and collaboration are keys to success. First make sure everyone understands what you're saying. When you demonstrate you want cooperation, others will sign up. Establish common ground. When everyone is working toward the same goals they're more likely to cooperate -- and execute.

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