Is your C-Suite really on board with the strategy execution agenda?
Recently, we read a thought-provoking blog post “How C-Suite Executives can undermine execution, what should you do about it?”
The authors, Dr Elliott Schreiber and Dr Chris Bart point out that throughout the C-Suite, they often find executives who either don’t understand the strategy, don’t care about it – or who undermine the strategy, for their own personal reasons.
We resonate with Schreiber and Bart’s views. But we’ve also found senior executives are smart enough to know how to pay lip-service to a strategy debate – even when they don’t agree with the strategy.
They know exactly what to say, how to say it – and when to say it.
Deep down, many CEO’s already know this. Bizarrely, they choose to put a type of phony team harmony ahead of having blunt conversations with people who intentionally undermine their authority.
They bellyache non-stop among themselves.
Worse, senior colleagues of these disruptive executives also choose to keep their anxieties about “the rogue in their midst” under wraps. Instead, they bellyache nonstop among themselves about the rogue – arguing that “if the CEO doesn’t care, why should we?”
Some CEO’s and senior executives make ludicrous concessions to accommodate an executive who routinely behaves like a feudal warlord. They haven’t got the stomach for a clash and convince themselves they can work around the rascal.
But they can’t.
Warlords have their own agenda and his team is usually too big and too central to be “worked around.” What’s more, the warlord’s function always has its own blinkered views about how the company’s priorities should be managed – but few other functions would agree with them.
A tribal, “finger pointing” culture develops, working relationships become tortuous and priorities quickly lose focus. This corrosive, energy-sapping stuff chokes the soul of the business and causes widespread confusion and cynicism.
Beyond question, it’s business purgatory.
The strategy execution agenda is holed below the waterline, before it starts.
If these behaviours aren’t dealt with head-on – and they rarely are – the strategy execution agenda is holed below the waterline, before it starts.
What do senior executives struggle with more – strategy or execution? That’s right. The majority of senior executives would say, execution. It’s well recognised that over 70% of strategic failures are due to poor execution.
Typically, the most significant chunk of any strategy execution agenda is based on a portfolio of two or three business-critical programs that must be successful to deliver the strategy.
This adds yet another dimension of “turbulence” to the C-Suite – making the climate even unhealthier.
When faced with a portfolio of business-critical programs, veteran executives would do themselves a huge favour by admitting they have strayed into baffling new territory – and that there are vast gaps in their knowledge.
People are literally spinning in typhoon-like mayhem.
Nowhere is this more obvious than how a business sets out its stall to run a business-critical program – and measures its progress.
Many businesses are superb at describing the results they want but only have a mediocre grasp of how they’re going to do it.
Execution wisdom at senior level is really thin on the ground. As a result, senior management teams make terrible decisions about how to organise to run business-critical programs.
Executives are either unaware – or don’t care – how casual stroke-of-the-pen decisions cause utter chaos at the coalface. People are literally spinning in typhoon-like mayhem as “real” work is broken down into hundreds, even thousands of tasks that backfire, as they sweep through the workforce.
Nobody in the C-Suite wants to tackle a feudal warlord who wants everything to continue just as it is. And who rubbishes any disturbance to the functional structure. Actually, the executives who previously decided to “work around him” on strategy (but can’t) are now doing exactly the same thing on execution.
That’s why everything costs a lot more and takes a lot longer – and even then the results may not cut the mustard. It’s easy to see how 70% failure rates stack up, isn’t it?
Naïveté is often confused with ignorance.
These executives are just being naïve.
Naïveté is often confused with ignorance but they mean totally different things. Ignorant executives just lack data; but this can be cured with information, just as fast as neurons can be fired up.
But, naïve executives actually fight soaking up new data. They’re scared stiff of the slightest change – especially when it means they may have to change their viewpoint. They’re also dangerous because they aggressively resist being de-naïved.
Stroke-of-the-pen decisions do not need any behavioural change. But real behaviour change is always required from people doing the work. Is it any surprise that staff feel they are constantly having things “done to them?”
Executives who talk the talk – but don’t walk the talk – cause serious damage. They hurt the culture and obstruct the execution process. They blunder on, oblivious of their vulnerability to know-how, skill and experience.
If you don’t know something, fine. There’s no shame in that. But pretending that you do isn’t smart.
Companies should invest the bulk of the organisation’s energy and skill into activities that truly drive and influence outcomes – as opposed to expected results. If they don’t, there’ll be a lot of futile thrashing going on – and little else.
Executives shouldn’t make exceptions
Nothing damages a business more than executives who tolerate an associate who delivers results but behaves in a way that is incongruent with the values of the business. Sometimes not even that.
Executives shouldn’t make any exceptions.
If they do, they draw attention to their own apathy to walking the talk. People are watching – and they pick up on every signal.
4 Manager Types
Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, described four types of manager in GE’s annual report in 2000.
Type 1: shares the values, makes the numbers. Fantastic, keep going.
Type 2: shares the values, but misses the numbers. Perhaps another chance, or two.
Type 3: doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers. Out.
Type 4: doesn’t share the values – but does make the numbers. A tough call; they’re capable people, but must be removed because they can demoralise staff and destroy a trust-based culture.
Removing Type 4’s from GE was no picnic. But Jack Welch knew it had to be done if GE was to make the next leap forward.
These “jerks,” as he called them, were a reflection of him and would quickly affect his personal credibility if he didn’t act.
Type 4’s didn’t leave GE to spend “more time with their family” or to “pursue other interests.” And they weren’t thanked for their “major contribution.”
They were asked to leave for not sharing GE’s values – and the entire company knew the reason.
All that’s ever needed is a bit of old-fashioned backbone.
Execution is hard; that’s why the failure rate is so high. It’s complicated immensely if any senior executive doesn’t openly support the strategy – and then wantonly frustrates pragmatic approaches to organising for business-critical programs – just because they can.
Worn out functional approaches don’t work; they never have. There’s no sane reason to waste years of your life wondering why it will be any different this time.
It never is.
Is it possible for us to be so judgemental? It is. Just look at the horrendous number of failed business-critical programs. And then look closely at how they were organised.
It’s dumb self-destruction; nothing less.
Using Jack Welch’s turn of phrase, it’s difficult to root out Type 4 “jerks” who feel they are invincible. But often, Type 3’s are tolerated too – and this reflects badly on the rest of the executive team.
Many Type 3’s and Type 4’s are skilled at paying lip-service to crucial strategy and organisational issues.
It suits their purpose to operate in guerrilla mode, below the radar.
The executive team always knows who the rebels are – and pays a heavy price for shirking decisions to dump them. It’s just a question of when the price is paid – before the damage is done, or later.
Attempting to manage around a silent dissenter is never a good idea.
All that’s ever needed, from the CEO and his top team, is a bit of old-fashioned backbone.
Is your C-suite on board? Is anyone undermining your efforts? Are your strategic programs in good health?
If you crave the kind of no-nonsense, reality-based advice and tactics we give, call us now 0n +44 (0) 118 900 1250 for a confidential talk or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s nothing to lose.