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The “vaccine against fuzzy thinking and fuzzy execution”. Help your team win the execution game!

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Let’s say you’ve clarified your vision and have a great game plan. You’re excited and you feel the magnetic force that comes with knowing your big hairy audacious goal and how you’ll make it real.

If you do a good job communicating your vision and you have the right people in the right places in the right bus, you might also have an energized, willing-to-perform team around.

But life happens and it’s easy to lose focus, execute on urgencies and noise, and find reasons for why the execution was poor: the competitive landscape changed, the goals were too ambitious, there was not enough time for everything, you didn’t find the right talent in the market…

How do you make sure your team wins the execution game?

A lot of teams acknowledge they do not have what they need to execute successfully. And from seeing different goals systems in place and having discussions with leaders, I see there’s still room for brilliant basics when it comes to goals, accountability, and execution.

In order to ensure successful execution, you need to have a system of execution in place. From theory and real-life learnings, here are the top 3 tips I find useful:

#1 - The right way of setting the objectives/key results/lead&lag KPIs/SMART goals

Let’s imagine you want to lose weight. I know, I could have used a corporate example, but for some days we’re still in the New Year’s resolutions mode (until mid-February or so) and this is a quantitatively relevant goal on an individual level for many of us. Hopefully, it also infuses some light personal touch in my writing/makes some of you raise an eyebrow :).

You set your goal for -xx KG by the end of the year. You weigh yourself every day or week and there’s not much progress. Guess what this does to your motivation?

Most meaningful goals we aim for take more time to achieve and are not influenced directly. You might have heard of lead and lag KPIs (and if you haven’t you can check The 4 disciplines of execution book, here’s a quick preview.

It’s not that the -xx KG by the end of the year is not SMART (it is specific, it is measurable, it might be also achievable and realistic/relevant and it’s time-bound)

But it’s also not enough.

How does it sound to complement it with 2 key results such as:

KR1: Eat XXXX Kcal daily (-xx% vs. your default) (optional, but recommended if you want to lose weight in a healthy way - of high nutrient-dense food)

KR2: Increase your daily active minutes from xx to yy

An objective is WHAT needs to be achieved (significant, concrete, action-oriented, and ideally inspirational). Key results benchmark and monitor HOW we get to the objective. Effective key results are specific, time-bound, aggressive, realistic, measurable, and verifiable. You need to define the key results so that it is impossible not to achieve the objective if you reach all the key results.

“Completion of all key results must result in attainment of the objective. If not, it’s not an OKR.” (from Measure what matters OKRs - The simple idea that drives 10x growth, by John Doerr - another book I recommend when it comes to driving performance and that inspired the title of this article)

#2 Establish a cadence of accountability and a scoreboard

People play differently when they know the score.

The goals should be public/transparent and cascaded at the individual level. Your team members should know how they are contributing to the achievement of the company goals and vision and where they are for each key result for every specific timeframe.

The goals, especially the key results should also have values defined at a quarterly, monthly, or project level (if appropriate).

Performance conversations need to happen frequently: What have you committed to doing, to achieve the goal? -> What did you do to achieve the goal?-> What do you plan to do to achieve the goal? What successes do you celebrate? What learnings did you have?

Are your individual goals as a manager reflecting the company priorities? Do you also keep yourself accountable in front of your team when it comes to how you focus your time to achieve the company’s goals?

You need to model for your team what it looks like to be focused on delivering results. Your speech and action need to be all about performance. It’s hard to ask from others to deliver when you feel guilty about not delivering yourself.

If you do not enforce an accountability cadence, goals will not be delivered. How often in your 1:1 and team meetings do you ask for a report on progress? How much of your feedback and recognition relates to goals?

#3 What’s in it for your people?

Make it meaningful to your people to achieve results.

Create an incentive scheme, link promotions to performance, create a culture that celebrate results. It’s good to be aware that in the OKRs philosophy is not recommended to link bonuses to performance (to encourage risk taking and prevent sandbaging).

People want to be seen and acknowledged for good performance. Show them some love based on the performance they deliver.

Give your people the autonomy to define the ways to contribute to goals and even define (some of/roughly half) the key results that can move the needle. As long as there’s a sanity check and the key results are meaningful, people will be more motivated to deliver when they have the freedom to contribute to what is to be delivered.

Reflection time

  • Looking from the balcony, what do you notice about your execution system?

  • On a scale from 1 to 10 (where 10 is the highest) how likely is it that your company will deliver its ambitions this year?

  • How are your results vs. plan for January?

  • How close or far are you from having a high-performing team and a performance mindset/culture in your company?

Don't wait until next year to stress test your goals and upgrade your performance management system!

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