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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Executing Your Strategy: Avoiding The Epic Fail

With all the bad news bombarding us daily, it's time to get control over the things we can do, and do everything we can during times of uncertainty, to avoid the epic fail.

To wit, here's a short refresher on why companies fail:

Failure to understand the customer
• Why they buy, what they want (real need for the product/service)

Failure to understand the resources, time required to execute the strategy
• Can the staff, equipment, and processes handle the stated strategy?
• Failure to develop new employee and leadership skills

Failure to obtain senior leader commitment
• Failure to get management involved right from the start
• Failure to obtain sufficient company resources to accomplish task

Failure to obtain team member commitment
• The strategy is not well explained to employees
• No incentives given to workers to embrace the strategy

Failure to manage change
• Inadequate understanding of the internal resistance to change
• Lack of vision on the relationships between processes, technology and organization

Failure to focus
• Inability or unwillingness to make choices which are true to the strategic mission (i.e. to do fewer things, better), leads to mediocrity, inability to compete

Failure to execute the plan
• No follow-through after initial planning
• No tracking of progress against the plan
• No accountability / consequences for the above

BOTTOMLINE: Start today...resolve to focus and act on the things you DO have control over (internal issues), on the highest priority activities you can - you'll find they all revolve around executing your strategy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Six Disciplines Execution Revolution

Robert Morris, a top business book reviewer, has published his review of Gary Harpst's "Six Disciplines Execution Revolution".

The review begins:

"Harpst asserts that "excellence is the enduring pursuit of balanced strategy and execution. Strategy requires choosing what promises to make to all stakeholders and a roadmap for delivering on those promises. Execution requires getting there, while overcoming unending surprises. Of the two, execution is far more difficult to achieve, but it is fruitless without sold strategy. Learning how to balance these two is the key to excellence...."

Read the entire review published in the Columbus Examiner here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creating A Culture of Execution

Creating organizational cultures don't just happen by chance.

Indeed, the innovative folks over at 37 Signals argue that "You Don't Create A Culture" at all.

According to the article: "You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior. If you encourage people to share, and you give them the freedom to share, then sharing will be built into your culture. If you reward trust then trust will be built into your culture."

So, if you encourage and reward something (for example, an attitude or behavior) - on a consistent basis - it gets build into your organization's culture.

Sharing, trust, cooperation, engagement - whatever your organization has as its core values - must be encourage, recognized and rewarded, in order for it to become built into your culture.

Same goes for execution. If you value "getting the right things done" - consistently, predictably and in a balanced way, you need to encourage it, recognize it and reward it consistently over time.

BOTTOMLINE: Start today by creating your own "culture of execution". Determine what shared core values your organization has relative to getting things done, align your resources to do so, and begin to recognize and reward attitudes and behaviors (results, not just activities) that reinforce the kind of execution culture you want your organization to have.

Strategy Execution and The Balanced Scorecard

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge offers up this interview with HBS professor Robert S. Kaplan, one of the original creators of the Balanced Scorecard in 1992.

Key take-aways from their latest research:
  • Companies often manage strategy in fits and starts.
  • Though executives may formulate an excellent strategy, it easily fades from memory as the organization tackles day-to-day operations issues, or what most think of as "fighting fires."
  • Strategy forumulation needs to be a continual process - not an annual event.
  • Senior management teams needs to have regular, probably monthly, meetings that focus only on strategy.
  • Companies need a formal process for using strategic objectives to set priorities for where operational improvements can have the largest impact on strategy execution.
  • A complete strategy execution system schedules strategy review meetings at a different time from operational review meetings, so that each meeting has its own frequency, agenda, information system, and participation.
  • Creating a strategy map and scorecard for that strategy is the logical and proven next step for putting the strategy into action.

Kaplan also reveals the "six strategy execution stages":

  1. Stage 1: The CEO leads the change agenda and drives it from the top to reinforce the mission, values and vision. Leadership sets the ambitious vision and stretch targets.
  2. Stage 2: The executive leader validates the strategy map as an expression of the strategy articulated in Stage 1 and challenges the organization with stretch targets that take all employees outside their comfort zones.
  3. Stage 3: Leadership drives alignment of organizational units and is essential for communicating vision, values, and strategy to all employees.
  4. Stage 4: Leadership supports the cross-organizational unit process improvements.
  5. Stage 5: the leader's openness and skill in running the strategy management review meeting determines its effectiveness for fine-tuning the strategy throughout the year.
  6. Stage 6: The leader must allow even a well-formulated and executed strategy to be challenged in light of new external circumstances, data collected about the performance of the existing strategy, and new suggestions from employees throughout the organization. Being willing to welcome and subject existing business strategies to fact-based challenges is one of the hallmarks of effective leadership.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Solving The One Problem That Makes Solving All Other Problems Easier

An organization that learns a systematic way of setting its priorities, that learns how to build detailed plans, that learns how to proactively manage those plans and communicate in an organized way is in a much better position.

In such an environment, goals are clearer and new employees can understand their role sooner. They learn how to communicate more effectively. Overall, the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization will be higher; it will have better capacity to respond to the demands of growth.


  • Building an organization that can learn how to execute strategy and deal with the daily surprises of the business world is solving the one problem that makes solving all other problems easier.

  • Solving this one problem yields substantial long-term benefits for your business, including predictability, balance, managed growth and substantially increased market value. All of this promotes a better night’s sleep for you.

  • Solving this one problem also leads to the creation of an organization that is trusted both internally and externally. It enables an organization that learns how to develop its people to their fullest potential. It empowers an organization that can be successfully transitioned to the next generation, and so on.

  • The value of your business will be significantly higher if it has a predictable strategy
    execution history.

  • Any business that would adopt a systematic program for strategy execution two years before selling the business would get 30–40 percent more for the business when sold. Why? Because having an organization that knows how to plan and execute is rare. Those who achieve it set themselves apart and are worth more.
(Excerpted from Chapter 11, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Importance of Shared Community Learning in Strategy Execution

A complete strategy execution program depends upon the power of a shared community learning. First, the power of community is required to change the economics for implementing such a program within small and midsized organizations. Second,learning is required to overcome the natural tendency of individuals and organizations to wander from the very disciplines that can deliver them from the status quo.

It’s a tall order to build a community that agrees to share these attributes. Even though it’s difficult, it’s worth the effort, because well-formed communities accelerate learning.


The Execution Revolution will be built around communities with the following characteristics:

  • A belief that their ultimate core competence is the ability to execute their strategy.
  • A shared repeatable methodology that organizes their efforts to execute better.
  • Strategy execution coaches who are experts in the repeatable methodology they share.
  • Shared technology (an execution software system) to help integrate planning and
    activity alignment at all levels of the organization.
  • Active communities in the Execution Revolution consist of communities with these titles: coaches, leadership teams, initiative teams, team leader and team members and cross-company roles.
  • Among adult learners, the biggest barrier to fostering a learning community is pride. For senior leadership, the only way to remove this barrier is to display a passion for learning how to execute strategy effectively.
  • Of all the four components of a complete program – a repeatable methodology, strategy execution coaching, an execution software system and a shared learning community – the learning community has the most transforming power.

(Excerpted from Chapter 10, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Importance of An Execution Software System in Strategy Execution

The primary role of the execution system component is to help organizations get the right things done. To do this requires identifying execution problems as early as possible and addressing them.

Think of an organization as a system for deciding what to do (a strategy, a plan) and the managing the execution of that plan. When the system (the business) makes an error, choosing to do the wrong thing or forgetting to do something that is required, the problem must be corrected. The longer it takes to detect the problem, the more it costs to fix. If the business has no system in place to set, manage and monitor strategy execution, the process is not only error-prone, it’s a huge disaster just waiting to happen.

Without such an execution software system, an organization becomes unpredictable at best and eventually declines in its ability to execute, especially as it grows. That is why it’s important that an execution software system enables an organization to focus on learning as early as possible.


  • An execution software system enables an organization to focus on learning to identify
    execution problems as early as possible.

  • There are five primary types of organizational errors or causes for execution failure
    within an organization: change, clarity, dependency, estimation and availability.

  • An execution software system needs to include the following elements: methodology
    automation, time management, real-time activity alignment, weekly external review
    cycle, total organizational engagement and execution management.

(Excerpted from Chapter 9, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Importance of Coaching In A Strategy Execution Program

Most leaders fail to understand the implication of the human nature barriers. Our natural tendency is to do what we like doing, not necessarily what we should. The topic of coaching offers the most insight into what it takes to deliver a complete strategy execution program.

Strategy execution coaching implies that an accountability model exists. Employees in organizations will learn to be accountable – that is, they’ll do what is needed and expected – proportionate to the extent in which three factors are present:

  • Expectations are clear.
  • These expectations are perceived as credible and reasonable because the employees
    were involved in setting them.
  • Employees understand the impact of success, or lack thereof, on the organization.

When these three factors aren’t in place, employees can’t achieve their potential, no matter what kind of people they are. A critical element for creating company-wide accountability is to put appropriate focus on results, not activities. For most employees, it’s more motivating to be told what needs to be done and why, but not how.

BOTTOMLINE: Being accountable to ourselves is not enough. We clearly need others, preferably outside of our organization, to hold us accountable and to help us accelerate our learning. We need others to help us fight the continual battles against our own human nature and our tendency to do what we want to do, rather than what we need to do. We need others to challenge our way of thinking and acting. We need others to help us increase our capability to manage the next challenge. We need others to learn how to do this faster than we can do it on our own. Finally, we need others to help make change last within our organizations, to make the new way of working “stick.” That’s what strategy execution coaching is all about.

(Excerpted from Chapter 8, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Importance of A Repeatable Methodology for Strategy Execution

A methodology, or method, is another name for any step-by-step approach to getting something done. A business-building methodology must include the steps that are essential for an organization to build and sustain a healthy, growing business. It must define how the organization sets its goals and priorities and organizes its resources to best achieve these goals.

It must teach the organization how to stay focused on what’s important, while dealing with the inevitable surprises that occur regularly in life. It must provide ways to identify where the organization is on plan (or off) and do so in real-time.

A business-building methodology must provide a framework for an organization to learn and grow as its size and complexity grows – a way to increase its capability to learn and grow faster than its challenges. Another priority of the methodology is to connect long-term goals with daily decisions. To do this requires connecting people’s activities to the company’s strategy – from the top to the bottom of the organization. It requires a clear process for defining strategy and goals that are then translated into team and individual goals.

Another benefit of having a repeatable and documented business-building methodology is the accumulation of knowledge by individuals and teams. Defining a process and then documenting changes to that process reinforces the learning that occurs so that you don’t forget it. When many individuals use a common methodology, the rate of accumulated learning that is shared is accelerated.


  • The goal of a complete strategy execution program is to enable organizations to spend an increasing amount of time in Quadrant II. Here, their performance is more predictable and sustainable and execution of strategy becomes balanced.

  • Achieving this goal requires thinking holistically about the business – how to make all the components, people, processes, policies, key measures, assets and strategies work together to meet the promises made to customers and other stakeholders and to repeat these in a predictable fashion.

  • Be aware that reading about each discipline separately doesn’t make your business perform better instantly any more than taking five golf lessons makes you a good golfer. In the end, you have to learn how to use all of the disciplines together and the only way to truly learn is by doing.

  • We are absolutely advocating this: every organization that is serious about excellence
    and execution must practice some defined methodology as the foundation of its efforts.

  • The absolute foundation of building an organization that is increasing its ability to execute is a repeatable methodology.

  • In addition, the disciplines must be used in conjunction with the other three required elements of a complete strategy execution program: strategy execution coaching, an execution software system and the benefits of community learning.

(Excerpted from Chapter 7, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The First Complete Strategy Execution Program (Summarized)

The critical question for every business leader is, “How do I build an organization that consistently executes its strategy?”

The answer: it takes a complete program. The reasons other approaches do not last is that they are missing key elements. Technology (i.e., performance mangement software) alone is not enough. Training, by itself, is not adequate. Simply reading best-selling books won’t do it. New leadership by itself is not the answer. Retaining better people won’t make the critical difference. Hiring an executive coach by itself will not overcome this challenge.

No, the answer lies in taking a more profoundly holistic approach.

BOTTOMLINE: Our field research has shown us that singular, piece-meal approaches just don’t last. Sustainability, the capacity of an organization to maintain the necessary balance between strategy and execution, and doing so while overcoming the hurdles, requires a complete program consisting of four tightly-integrated elements:

  • A Repeatable Methodology to drive organizational learning and understanding.

  • Strategy Execution Coaching to nurture and nudge to stay the course.

  • An Execution Software System to engage everyone, everyday in real-time alignment.

  • Community Learning to share and reinforce best practices and accelerate learning\

(Excerpted from Chapter 6, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

Requirements Of A Next-Generation Strategy Execution Program (Summarized)

In researching how to build a sustainable strategy execution program, we’ve uncovered three major barriers that have to be overcome if the program is to be successful. They are insufficient expertise, prohibitive economics and simple human nature. We’ve determined that these three barriers are actually the major design requirements any truly effective strategy execution program must be able to address.

The Expertise Hurdle: To produce lasting results, any complete strategy execution program has to somehow help the organizations that use it to cope with the wide range of expertise required to employ the appropriate best practices that are available. It must also help these organizations recognize that this body of knowledge will keep growing and changing.

The Economics Hurdle: Clearly, any strategy execution program developed for small and midsized businesses must consider how to deliver the expertise and technology required at an economic level that these organizations can afford. The only way this can be achieved is by integrating these essential components of the program – in a complete solution – and deliver them using an innovative model.

The Human Nature Hurdle: Now, for the toughest hurdle of all: people. One of the most persistent challenges we face as humans is to narrow the gap between knowing what needs to be done, and actually doing what needs to be done. Another dimension of human nature that needs to be considered is resistance to change. Most of us resist change, unless it’s our own idea.


  • In order to build a sustainable strategy execution program in small and midsized businesses, three major barriers or hurdles need to be overcome: insufficient expertise, prohibitive economics and simple human nature.

  • While larger companies have knowledgeable people with the necessary expertise in business improvement disciplines, small and midsized organizations don’t have equal
    access to such a wide array of expertise.

  • Developing mastery in even just one business improvement discipline requires a substantial investment. None of this comes cheap, and there are no shortcuts.

  • Any strategy execution program developed for small and midsized businesses must consider how to deliver the expertise and technology required in a way that makes sense economically for these enterprises. The only way this kind of change in economics can be achieved is by integrating the essential components of such a program into a complete solution and delivering them using an innovative distribution

  • One of the most persistent challenges we face as humans is to narrow the gap between knowing what needs to be done and actually doing what needs to be done.

  • Other human nature hurdles to overcome include our resistance to change, our unique differences, our need to communicate effectively and our need for purpose in our lives, including meaningful work.

(Excerpted from Chapter 5, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Leapfrog Opportunity For Executing Strategy (Summarized)

Occasionally, circumstance and progress in seemingly unrelated areas combine to create an opportunity for solving old problems in new and exciting ways.

One of those breakthrough periods is upon us now, with regard to strategy execution.

This inflection point has developed primarily because large corporations have made huge investments developing best practices for effective management, strong leadership and strategy execution.

Built upon the results of these efforts, we believe the coming Execution Revolution will result in an order-of-magnitude change in cost that will allow small to midsized businesses not only to catch up, but to actually leapfrog, larger organizations in their execution management capabilities.

This is what the Execution Revolution is all about.

Leaders of small and mid-sized businesses now have an opportunity to go from almost no system to a new category in the excellence industry – a complete strategy execution program that puts everything needed for a balanced strategy execution together in one affordable combination.

The business excellence methodology component of this program is detailed in Gary Harpst's first book, Six Disciplines for Excellence: Building Small Businesses That Learn, Lead and Last.

  • Conditions are currently right to approach strategy execution in a radical new way.
  • Seven key areas of business improvement advancements are fueling the Execution
    1. Quality Programs
    2. Business Process Best Practices
    3. Personal Productivity Tools
    4. Business Intelligence
    5. Strategy Formulation
    6. Virtual Community Development
    7. Business Coaching

(Excerpted from Chapter 4, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

Why Is Strategy Execution So Hard? (Summarized)

Why is strategy execution so difficult?

Why do we know what to do, but don’t always do it? Doing what we know we should requires someone who will keep us on track, to teach, direct and encourage us to do the things we know we should do – the difficult things that we rarely, if ever, follow through to the finish, if left to our own devices.

While the majority of us have one or more "specialties", the majority of us just don’t know how to put together all the key steps of strategy, planning, organizational alignment, execution management, innovation and measurement.

BOTTOMLINE: Strategy execution is hard for a variety of reasons, but it’s not "rocket surgery".
  • The majority of us don’t know how to put together all the key steps of strategy, planning, organizational alignment, execution management, innovation and measurement.
  • Often, we fall into the trap of outside-in thinking, and need to focus on internal things
    rather than worrying about issues outside of our control.
  • We need to keep in mind the control factor: regardless of how well we perform as a business, there are many factors to success we cannot control.
  • Sometimes, it’s easier not to do what we know we should do.
  • As ironic as it may seem, there is a growth paradox, the organization that’s good at
    solving today’s challenges will create a new and bigger set of challenges for itself tomorrow.
  • It’s critical that organizations continually work on increasing their capacity to execute.

(Excerpted from Chapter 3, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

The Biggest Problem in Business (Summarized)

What most business leaders think their greatest challenge is, isn’t.

And whatever their problems are today, they’ll be different tomorrow and they will be bigger too.

There is one business problem that if solved, will make solving all other problems easier.

This foundational challenge is executing strategy.

In other words, building an organization that has the ability to plan and execute, while at the same time, overcoming the inevitable surprises in business. This is the biggest and toughest challenge in business.


  • The biggest problem in business is not what most business leaders think it is.
  • The biggest challenge is not the issue at hand. Planning and execution while at the same time dealing with the unknowns of the real world, is the biggest challenge in business.
  • Focus on solving the problem that makes all the other problems soluble.
  • Developing and executing a strategy that’s balance in growth and profitability is extremely difficult and is therefore rare.
  • Execution is considered by most business leaders and researchers as a universal

(Excerpted from Chapter 2, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, by Gary Harpst)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Four Quadrants of the Business Excellence Model

Simply put, the focus and capability of an organization can be understood in two dimensions: strategy (deciding what to do) and execution (getting it done). Leaders who build organizations with strong execution over long periods of time achieve enduring excellence. The combination of strategy (the choices of what we do versus what not to do) and execution (how well the choices are carried out) becomes the field upon which the Execution Revolution occurs in any given company.

The figure above shows a model of these dimensions using four quadrants of performance:

Quadrant I: Strong Strategy/Weak Execution: In this quadrant, a business has a strong strategy, which typically means a competitive advantage. This advantage can come from offering premium products or services, availability or price. It can be rooted in technology, distribution channels, manufacturing expertise or current customer base. Regardless of whether a company is a start-up or a seasoned business, strong strategy usually leads to growth in sales. A key point to understand is that success and the results of growth start the journey – but this often leads an organization (and its leadership) into Quadrant IV.

Quadrant IV: Strong Execution/Weak Strategy: A company in Quadrant IV usually gets there because it is experiencing the pains of growth. Quite often, sales have outpaced capacity, so leadership becomes focused on strengthening internal operations to address quality, scheduling, hiring, training, customer service, order processing and other issues. In other words, the movement into Quadrant IV is a natural reaction to success in Quadrant I.

Quadrant III: Weak Strategy/Weak Execution: It’s easy for a company to operate in Quadrant III for quite a while before leadership really accepts they are there. The shift into this state of weakness results from gradual decline in growth and profitability, caused by decisions made (or not made) a year or two earlier. In Quadrant III businesses are usually overworked, confused and eventually have a feeling of hopelessness if the issues are not addressed. Typically, the best exit plan for moving out of Quadrant III is to aggressively reallocate resources from low-profitability areas to the growth areas. This sounds easy, but most organizations don’t have the framework, the will or the persistence to make the hard choices it requires.

Quadrant II: Strong Strategy/Strong Execution: Quadrant II is all about balancing growth with profitability and performing predictably. This requires a disciplined organization, one that’s able to execute well enough to address the needs of today and build for tomorrow at the same time. Admittedly, Quadrant II performance is difficult to sustain. Few companies are able to
achieve this kind of performance for long periods of time.

BOTTOMLINE: This is what the Execution Revolution is all about: the process of changing the game with regard to enduring excellence by focusing on how to plan and execute strategy more effectively while successfully managing the surprises along the way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Five Key Steps In Strategy Formulation - And Two For Execution

Creating a strong strategy for an organization is not an easy task. It takes several of the organization's leaders to articulate and agree on vision and direction.

Yet, of the two, execution is much harder, as it requires the activity of every person, every day.

Here are five tips for strategy formulation:

  1. Analyze the current situation. Determining where your organization stands is an important first step that some leaders take for granted. Ask yourself, “Where are we now?” At a bare minumum, conduct a SWOT analysis.
  2. Set a clear strategic direction. Use mission and vision statements to articulate goals, then set out an action plan for how to reach them.
  3. Develop a small set of initiatives. Outline 3-5 key initiatives or projects that support the organization's goals and assign them to key employees to execute.
  4. Establish a detailed action plan - for everyone. An individual plan for every employee, one that is reviewed between employee and team leaders weekly, gives everyone status updates and enough time for corrective action in the case that goals are at risk. Include measures for monitoring progress.
  5. Align the organization. Execution of strategy requires every person, every day. Make sure you disseminate the strategy to all employees. How can they execute on it, if they're not continually aware of what's really important?

Now that strategy has been formulated, two key tips for executing the strategy:

  1. Execute relentlessly. The individual plan for each person needs to be reviewed daily, time needs to be spent on activities that support the initiatives, and corrective measures need to take place as early as possible, so you can course-correct quickly.
  2. Monitor, measure and learn. Monitor key measures along the way, find and correct errors early and quickly, and learn from your mistakes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Execution - The Greatest Challenge in Business

To quote former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, "When it's all said and done, more is said, than done."

Likewise, execution is critical to an organization's success, yet it's much easier said than done.

In their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan strongly support strategy execution as a critical leadership role, making three clear statements:
  1. Execution is a discipline, and it's integral to strategy formulation.
  2. Execution is the major job of the business leader.
  3. Execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture.

However, execution appears to be the greatest challenge.

In his book, Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change, Professor Lawrence G. Hrebiniak from the Wharton Business School identified the following issues related to the challenge of execution.

Notice that all four of the problems mentioned below are people-related issues:

  1. Managers are trained to plan, not execute.
  2. Some top executives do not see themselves as responsible for executing the strategies they formulate.
  3. Strategy execution happens over a much longer time frame than strategy formulation.
  4. Strategy execution involves more people than strategy formulation.

In his best-selling book, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, author, veteran CEO and strategy execution expert Gary Harpst identified that the balance of both strategy and execution is the key to lasting excellence. Excellence is a journey that never ends. It's an enduring pursuit that requires and enduring approach.

BOTTOMLINE: According to Harpst, "Planning and executing, while at the same time managing the unknowns of the real world is the biggest challenge in business. Overcoming this challenge is what we mean by solving the one problem that makes solving all other problems easier. It builds an organization that is preparing for an ever-increasing set of future challenges, which are the natural result of overcoming today's challenges."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Building Organization-Wide Accountability

Building company-wide accountability is a key element to making a business sustainable over a long period of time. Not surprisingly, all high-performing organizations are moving toward more empowerment, enlightenment -- and building their own organizational accountability.

So what is accountability? To some, it’s something you make people do, as in “making people accountable.” But as long as you think accountability can be purchased, mandated, or motivated, you’re trapped in trying to create accountability -- where it may not be possible.

Let’s consider what accountability is, and how we can build an organizational culture that encourages it.

Be definition, accountability is being answerable or responsible for something. Accountability opens the door to ownership – not necessarily financial ownership -- but certainly emotional ownership, where someone acknowledges they’re responsible for some aspect of the organization.

Accountability is not something you “make” people do. It has to be chosen, accepted or agreed upon by people within your organization. People must “buy into” being accountable and responsible. For many, this is a new, unfamiliar, and sometimes, uncomfortable way to work. Most importantly: individual purpose and meaning comes from accepting responsibility and learning to be accountable.

To learn to be accountable means coming to grips with an element of discipline. Accountability is the opposite of permissiveness. Holding people accountable is really about the distribution of power and choice. When people have more choice, they are more responsible. When they become more responsible, they can have more freedom. When they are more accountable, they understand their purpose and role within the organization and are committed to making things happen.

So, how do you build company-wide accountability?

Only organizations that can clearly identify, articulate, and execute their strategic goals are well-positioned to be able to build company-wide accountability. To effectively achieve these goals, companies must measure and manage actual business performance against these goals in a highly coordinated manner.

A six-step framework to build company-wide accountability is to:

  1. Decide What’s Important (develop an authentic mission, vision, values, strategic position)
  2. Set Goals That Lead (planning that includes measures, targets, projects)
  3. Align Systems (streamline processes and resources so all resources support the goals)
  4. Work the Plan (assure and measure so that each employee’s plans and activities support the goals)
  5. Innovate Purposefully (get to root causes quicker, make quicker and more informed decisions)
  6. Step Back (assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, appraise performance results)

Building company-wide accountability requires not only a systematic method based on proven best-practices. It also requires technologies that make the framework practical to use and implement on a daily, weekly, monthly quarterly and annual basis. In addition, it takes an external coach or strategic advisor to hold you and your organization accountable and to help these cultural changes to “stick” – to make it last. In the end, it takes an organization that is ready and able to accept accountability, and to benefit from the ownership and the freedom that comes with organizational accountability.

Accountability and positive organizational change come through a new set of conversations. You can start having these conversations in your organization today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Communicating Your Strategic Plan

The Lord's Prayer has 50 words.

The Ten Commandments have 297 words.

The Constitution of the United States of America has 4,500 words.

How many words does your organization's operations manual have? How about your mission, vision, values statement? How about your strategic position?

Perhaps even more importantly - how many of your organization's team members have ever even read your mission, vision, values, and strategic position?

Do they even know where to find it?

BOTTOMLINE: It's not enough to simplify and make every word count when it comes to your organization's mission, vision, values and strategic position. Make them available to everyone in your organization - constantly. Make your mission, vision, values, and strategic position always available on every team member's desktop. It's a great way to continually remind and align team members to your organization's strategy. And to execute accordingly.

The Strategic Planning Horizon

At Six Disciplines, we encourage business leaders and all team members to look at business planning horizons using this inverted pyramid chart.

Beginning with Mission and Values, which should be decided upon early in the strategic planning process - and should be designed to last for decades.

Next is the organization's Strategic Position, which should be the articulated as the ability to build and sustain a product or service offering that is different than that of your competition, and should be designed to last 10+ years.

Similarly, the Vision should be designed to describe how your organization will look like in 10 years, in pursuing the mission and strategic position.

Next, the Long-Term Goals of the organization (also known as the "Vital Few Objectives") look out 3-5 years, and 1-Year Company Goals are expressed in a balanced scorecard-like fashion (with specific measures, deadlines, assigned accountability) in the categories of financial, customer, production and people.

Individual Plans are created on a quarterly basis, indicating projects, tasks and activities that each person will do in order to support the company goals.

BOTTOMLINE: It all comes down to Today....what are you doing - TODAY - to support the organization's goals, in order to fulfill its Long-Term Goals, Vision, Mission and Values?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Interview with CEO and Strategy Execution Expert Gary Harpst

Gary Tomlinson is an entrepreneur and founder of five successful businesses. Today, he is an accountability consultant and professional speaker based in North Carolina.

Here’s an excerpt of an interview Tomlinson did with Gary Harpst, discussing his newest best-selling book, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution.

Tomlinson: “Your first book, Six Disciplines for Excellence, is a highly regarded strategy execution methodology. Why did you write Execution Revolution”?

Harpst: “When I wrote Six Disciplines for Excellence we were trying to help businesses understand a basic step by step methodology to create an environment of lasting excellence. A lot of businesses are able to have a period of good growth and good profitability but not many are able to sustain it.”

“The mission of our company was to document basic step-by-step methodologies to help organizations achieve and sustain lasting change. The purpose of Execution Revolution was to help business leaders understand that their biggest problem isn’t the problem that’s right in front of them — it’s building an organization that knows how to draft a plan and execute it. A company that knows how to do that can solve any problem. It’s a perspective change.”

Read the entire interview here.

CEO Profiling – Part II: The CEO Effectiveness Exam

The following Part II article was written by Eric Kurjan, President of Six Disciplines Northwest Ohio. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organizations looking to break beyond the status quo. For more information visit, or call 419-348-1897.

In my last article, "CEO Profiling - The Four Kinds of CEOs", I described the four different kinds of CEOs and their ability or inability to run, build or grow their business ventures.

In this article, the focus is on your own organization and your self-evaluation. The CEO Effectiveness Exam is simple and quick, yet illuminating. Although the tendency is to be lenient, I ask that you be honest with yourself and score each question with a truthful answer. Approach it from the perspective of what you are today, not what you want to be. The outcome of this self-evaluation will not do anything by itself. However, with an action plan it may change your perspective, habits, performance and ultimately your long-term results.

Let me recap the four CEO types from the previous article.

CEO #1 – The True Leader – they are solid leaders and run top notch organizations. They set clear goals, measure results, hold people accountable and communicate consistently to the organization. They will have the highest scores on CEO Effectiveness Exam.

CEO# 2 – The Know-it-All – they are too smart for their own good. They are the bully or they are the shrinking violet. They often misunderstand the key elements of leading an organization although the financial results can sometimes be surprisingly good but at a huge cost to the employees, clients and vendors. They will have the lowest scores on the CEO Effectiveness Exam.

CEO# 3- The Heart Attack – they are running scared. Something undesirable has happened to their business and now they are frantically trying to find a way to save the enterprise. A major client has left, product quality has slipped, or maybe sales fell well short of projections, or profits have melted away. Could those people have been right about having a plan and executing on that plan? They will have a low overall CEO Effectiveness Exam score but may be “good” in a few category areas.

CEO #4 – The Humble Leader – they are hard workers. They have built a very good organization and are not satisfied with the status quo. They want more for their organization and are doing something about it. They will score well above “good” in most every category.

Your CEO Effectiveness score is based on the six category areas: Leadership/Culture, Strategy, Customer Focus, Measurement, People and Process. Each one is of equal importance and contributes to the whole. The scores in each section will indicate strengths or shortcomings in an area; however each area must be developed, managed and fully implemented for a CEO to build a truly successful organization.

So now that you “know” what you are, what do you do about it? That is the biggest question you will need to answer. As Gary Harpst, founder of Six Disciplines, says: “the problem for most of us isn’t knowing what to do; it’s doing it”.

Unless you have earned the coveted “CEO#1” score, seek professional help, seriously. Whether it is from Six Disciplines or another qualified business advisor, look for professional assistance in developing a plan to raise your scores and produce better results.

Click here to download the CEO Effectiveness Exam.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Aligning People To Execute Strategy

The execution of strategy most often fails because leaders do not focus on the critical issue of aligning their people to execute the strategy.

The essential steps are:
  1. Formulate the strategy
  2. Communicate the strategy
  3. Align people to ensure strategy execution
  4. Monitor and measure the results
  5. Learn and repeat
Consequently, managers at every layer are abandoning the idea that "good management" is about planning their people’s work. People increasingly must plan their own work, make their own decisions and learn to self-manage.

BOTTOMLINE: The key to executing strategy begins with communicating and getting buy-in to the strategy, and in making sure that the decisions and activities people do on a daily basis are in alignment with the strategic direction of the organization.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Communicating Organizational Change

Although always important, communication is absolutely critical when deciding to adopt a strategy execution program like Six Disciplines.

It’s challenging to manage the transition ("if nothing changes, nothing changes...") if people have no sense of where the changes are headed. Painting a picture for them can be difficult.

The truth is that many organizations head into a transition state with nothing more than some basic ideas, some lofty goals and cherished values to guide them on their journey.

It’s crucial for leaders to develop and widely communicate a compelling “case for change.” The end product–a well-articulated and persuasive argument for change–becomes, in effect, the mantra of the upcoming change for the organization.

When communicating organizational change to your employees, include:

  • Reason for the change ("if nothing changes, nothing changes...")
  • Vision of the future (renewing your organization's mission, vision)
  • Plan for getting there (persistent, consistent and repeatable plan)
  • Belief that change is achievable (so that people can understand how they contribute)
  • Expectations (of where we're headed, how it's going to be while we journey there)

BOTTOMLINE: The reasons for change need to be communicated early, clearly, often and in delivered in many different ways.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Revolutionizing How Organizations Execute Their Strategies

Six Disciplines for Excellence
The One Book That Is Revolutionizing How Organizations Execute Their Strategies

Read about the breakthrough strategy execution program that’s designed specifically to be implemented and embraced by everyone in your company, in an ongoing, systematic way.

Unlike the academic and theoretical books, this top-rated book is the definitive "how-to" guide for leaders who want to take their organizations beyond temporary success to pursue enduring business excellence.

A finalist in USA Book News' 2007 National "Best Book" Awards, Six Disciplines for Excellence is consistently rated in the Top 10 of Amazon's "Organizational Learning" category.

The author of Six Disciplines for Excellence, Gary Harpst, is the CEO and founder of Six Disciplines. Harpst has been the founder of three successful companies and his most recent venture integrates proven best practices from over 25 years of field experience, resulting in the Six Disciplines strategy execution coaching program.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Top 5 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness

"The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution" was published in the June 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, based on a survey of 26,000 people in 31 companies.

In the article, the authors defined execution as "...the result of thousands of decisions made every day by employees acting according to the information they have and their own self-interest."

They also identified the top 17 fundamental traits of organizational effectiveness. Here's a quick look at the top five:

  1. Everyone has a good idea of the decision and actions for which he or she is responsible.
  2. Important information about the competitive environment gets to headquarters quickly.
  3. Once made, decisions are rarely second-guessed.
  4. Information flows freely across organizational boundaries.
  5. Field and line employees usually have the information they need to understand the bottom-line impact of their day-to-day choices.

BOTTOMLINE: The decision-making processes and information flow in every organization are critical. Raise the importance of these factors through recognition and reward are easy ways to improve organizational effectiveness, leading to better strategy execution.