Our Line-of-Sight colleagues recently organized a roundtable for senior executives on the topic of “Strategic and operational frameworks post-Covid.”
They were expecting to hear about increased digital delivery, sustainable supply chains, and emerging customer behaviors.
But something interesting happened: all that those leaders wanted to discuss was leadership and people. That was the only perspective that mattered to them when considering their strategies and operations.
Behind Execution, People
As one of these executives put it: “nimbleness in the extreme: it has served the organization well, but it's exhausting for our staff.”
Execution, especially when crisis calls for rapid adaptation, is all about people. Quickly pivoting to a new strategy? It’s on the employees. Finding creative ways to operate despite shortages? It’s on the employees. Staying focused on what matters despite uncertainty? It’s on the employees.
Of course, leaders still need to lead from the front, constantly clarifying, explaining, and role-modeling the strategy.
But when it comes to executing the strategy, those who know what’s going on are the employees.
This is why over the past two years, we have been by the side of SMB business owners and CEOs to rapidly assess and improve their execution capabilities. And we have done that by surveying those who really know: their employees.
Strategy Perception is Execution Reality
When CEOs seek our help to improve their performance, we use Line-of-Sight to assess the execution health of their company.
Typically, they come to us because something is not right: perhaps their contracts have shortened in the pandemic, wreaking havoc with their manufacturing shifts; or their middle management has become cynical and lost trust in leadership; or the company has been pursuing two very different segments and is struggling to fulfill them with different operating models.
Regardless of the issue, our first step is to baseline their execution capabilities. We do this by surveying their employees, i.e., the people who have the most intimate knowledge of what it takes to deliver, day in and day out.
It may seem counterintuitive to survey employees; after all, isn’t the leadership better aware of the company strategy?
Well, that is the point. Every day, employees will behave and make decisions based on what THEY think the strategy is. Their PERCEPTION of what the company is trying to do becomes the REALITY of how things get done.
5 Keys to Strategic Execution
So, if an executive wants to know how well they are executing and where issues are, we go straight to employees and measure the organization’s capabilities based on employees’ input in 5 areas:
• How is the leadership perceived to lead execution?
• How relevant are metrics for guiding people in their daily decisions?
• How related are daily activities to the strategy, and how does the structure
make it easy to perform them?
• How well is talent recruited and developed to directly support the
• What do they think is the reason customers buy from their company?
We call these dimensions the 5 Keys to Strategic Execution, KSEs. They can be scored based on aggregate ratings provided by employee responses. A score of 80 to 100 indicates strong capabilities; a score of 40 or less requires immediate attention from the leadership.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Using employees’ input to assess how they execute the strategy should not come as a surprise. For years, companies have conducted engagement surveys to understand how employees feel about their workplace. Engagement has a direct impact over individual productivity and collective performance.
Similarly, the sum of individual employee actions determines the collective execution of the organization, and therefore its performance. So, it is worth asking the employees for their individual perspective on what guides their actions and what supports or hinders them.
It’s On the Leaders
Once employees have helped build the execution baseline, it’s on their leaders to hear the message and act.
To help drive the point, we ask executives to also assess their organization’s execution capabilities, separately from their employees. In most cases, leaders over-evaluate the execution health of their organization: their scores are materially higher than those provided by their employees. This exercise is useful to help them realize they should not trust their own instinct when it comes to execution: they need an objective fact base, which is the aggregate, daily experience of their employees in charge of executing the strategy.
After all, the executives of our roundtable were right: it is really about leadership and people, even when you consider strategy execution.
Where to start
If you want to evaluate the execution health of your own organization, give us a call. We can discuss how other companies have eliminated their “execution tax,” and how you can do it too.