This the final slice of my three-part review of “Why Strategy Execution Unravels,” an article printed in the resourceful Harvard Business Review. A comprehensive survey of CEOs and middle management revealed what the authors termed “Myths” regarding how things get done, or not, in the corporate environment. The unending application of their detailed findings to the typical dealership environment was abundant.
Myth 1: Execution Equals Alignment
This myth revealed that the correlation between what management expected to be done, and what could actually be done wasn’t often jiving. The issues created here were not with the dedicated players, but rather with outside entities which didn’t perform causing the well-planned blueprint to go haywire way too often – think an unhappy waiting service customer, because the delivery time wasn’t met, due to the tire supplier not getting the ordered tires to the store in a timely fashion due to road construction – where does the fault lie here? Who will take the punishment? The variables are many in managing successful execution and top management often misses those in planning implementation – the lesson, as I understood it is to always have a Plan B integrated in the execution strategy.
Myth 2: Execution Means Sticking To The Plan
This myth detailed how important changing course during execution can be to the final success. While some Indian Chiefs understand and encourage the Indians to do what it takes to ensure success, some overreact and discourage any thinking out of the box they carefully designed. When application failure occurs, lack of flexibly is seldom identified as the reason and the cycle of marginal success continues, too often leading to blame being placed in the incorrect area.
Myth 3: Communication Equals Understanding
Here’s one everyone will recognize. Just because an in-charge individual states it, or writes another never-ending e-mail doesn’t mean the instruction will be understood or followed through. Cutting through the BS of the study, the bottom line was that top management has two inadequacies, their messages are often not clearly stated or understood, and secondly, they change their messages too often. It’s even worse when the instructions are verbal (how long does it take for you to forget someone’s name when you have just been introduced?).
How many thrown-together summits have you attended where a litany of ill-timed from-up-high orders were barked out by a talking head, then everyone shook their noggins in accommodating understanding, then they immediately ignored the message? I mean this week alone!
The most unfortunate part of this communication faux pas is that the guru feels an accomplishment has been had, and it will be sometime before the cat finally gets out of the bag so to speak.
Myth 4: A Performance Culture Drives Execution
The study results showed a huge difference between a typical company’s demand for and recognition of top performers, attempting to demonstrate that it has a culture of high performance, while in truth, management constantly tolerates underperformers.
This is no more veracity here than in a typical dealer service department. If there are 10 so-called technicians, two or three will be top professional performers, about five or six can be good performers as long as they are closely managed, and at least two should only be sweeping streets, not mangling customers’ cars.
While spending loads of energy distinguishing the highest and the potential performers is admirable, more energy should be dedicated to the bottom end fix. I have many times in workshops asked service managers if they employed any technicians they would not allow to work on their personal vehicle, and lots of hands go up immediately. That sums this issue up perfectly.
I can assert this: No independent shop owner I know would tolerate this situation for a minute.
Myth 5: Execution Should Be Driven from the Top
These exceptional statements in this articulate article bear direct repeating here: “Concentrating power at the top may boost performance in the short term, but it degrades an organization’s capacity to execute over the long run. Frequent and direct intervention from on high encourages middle managers to escalate conflicts rather than resolve them, and over time they lose the ability to work things out with colleagues in other units. Moreover, if top executives insist on making the important calls themselves, they diminish middle managers’ decision-making skills, initiative and ownership of results.”
In simple terms, the signature of a truly successful leader would be that his or her division / department / team performance did not change upon their departure (vacation / conference / or resignation). While a “make-it-happen” boss is a breath of fresh air in many circumstances, the ultimate goal to work towards should be a “make-it-happen staff.”
Another element popped up in the survey results, regarding middle management’s view of top management’s primary focus on their own agendas, versus teamwork and common agendas best for the company overall. Liken this to dealership department heads putting their department ahead of the good of all departments. “Look Pedro, I think a $35 labor rate is high enough for used cars. Besides you guys rip me off on the time you charge. A keeper-inspection should take more than five minutes.” I see you smiling at that comment.
Honestly, a dealership-oriented book could be written using the in-depth information provided by this most interesting expose’. Some 7,600 managers in 262 diverse companies were surveyed across 30 industries; this was no small sampling. It certainly cements the fact that the relationship intricacies of top management down to the lowest rung, no matter what the institution, are essentially the same for all business units. Starting at the top, apparently none of us are that great.