One of the biggest questions we are asked when working in culture transformation is how do we spread the word across the organization? How do we align all the cells of the organization towards this common goal and embrace change? Creating a common language throughout the organization accelerates culture change.
Shaping a leader’s behaviors is key to culture change. They are the inspirational figure of success within the organization. People look at them and copycat their behaviors, as they represent what is expected, the way we “should behave,” not only to be part of the organization, but to be successful. Any culture transformation will start with helping leaders walk the talk. This is critical to committing to change and creating confidence that it is real and that we are taking it seriously. “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Talk” is important. What is communicated about the transformation journey, when aligned with a leader’s behavior, systems, and symbols across the organization, helps accelerate change and enables people to feel part of the journey. The way we tell the story of transformation to ourselves and others can have an inspirational power when connected to a purpose and values.
Language shapes reality. The way we talk, the distinction and words we choose, reflects what it is important to us, what we believe, and what we value and the possibilities we seek to create. However very often, we see organizations that invest a lot of effort to talk about their desired culture, but generate very little impact on people.
So, how can we successfully create a common language across the organization to accelerate culture change?
Connect culture (HOW) to your purpose (WHY) and vision (WHAT): Establish a clear link between your purpose, leadership behavior, culture, and organizational performance. This will give meaning and a clear intention to everything you do. It will help you build a clear picture of the type of culture you need to achieve your strategy and fulfill your purpose.
Define your desired culture values, attitudes, and behaviors and re-signify “words” when needed: Do not assume everybody holds a common understanding of the same words. For each distinctive behavior, include statements clarifying what IT IS and what IS NOT. Define which behaviors you wish to see/avoid in the organization to deliver sustainable results.The use of diagnostics tools for culture and leadership such as the ones we use at Axialet, the OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) are integrated tools. We use them to measure organizational cultural norms and leaders’ behaviors. They help create a common language around the desired cultural norms and leadership styles. When using the OCI, OEI, and LSI, we usually hear organizations and leaders talking about their culture and leadership styles in terms of colors to refer to existing cultural norms/behaviors: passive(green) or aggressive (red) styles or constructive (blue).
Let’s talk about it: Every conversation and interaction is an opportunity for leaders to talk about the desired culture and role model the desired behaviors.
Everyone’s contribution matters: When creating a common language, include everybody. Educate people about the desired culture through engagement and communication events. Ask everyone to articulate what is special about the culture and how they contribute to it. Encourage participation and open dialogue.
Offer clear examples and stories about “our culture in action”: Share stories about leaders exemplifying the new culture. Acknowledge the misses and advances in the learning journey. Changing culture means changing deeply engrained beliefs and it requires a huge amount of grit, resilience, and compassion.
When changing culture, creating a common language is a necessary phase for everyone to feel invited, understand its implications, and jump on board. If it happens too soon, before some critical steps are put in place, it may have an opposite, effect generating distrust, disengagement, confusion, and ineffective behaviors from people across the organization.
It reinforces culture change when a holistic culture change approach is put in place: vision and values have cascaded, leaders are walking the talk, mains systems (eg: performance & talent management) are aligned to new behaviors, and some symbolic changes have happened.
Watch the recording of this live webinar where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.
There is a deep link between leaders’ change and culture change. The impact of their behaviors is probably the most difficult aspect for leaders at the beginning of a culture transformation process.
Leaders usually understand intellectually the logical connection between their behaviors and the resulting organizational culture. In our work at Axialent, we have never seen leaders rejecting their responsibility in that. What seems harder for leaders to envision from the beginning are the implications for their own personal transformation.
Communication Is Not Enough
The initial tendency many leaders show, even when they are enthusiastic about the culture change process, is interpreting that leading it means just politically supporting the change. That they only need to be openly and explicitly in favor of the transformation. A well-intentioned leader may think their scope of responsibility includes declaring their support and demanding that others support it too. There is a general interpretation that this is simply a “communication process”. Enthusiastic leaders tend to easily accept the need to re-design structures, processes, and symbols. All of those are necessary conditions, but are not enough.
The moment of truth comes when leaders become aware that they need to address a deep insight into their personal beliefs and values as a necessary step for culture transformation. The review and transformation of leaders’ individual mental models is the real “work” they’ll have to do to get ahead on the culture transformation highway. Any culture change process that omits this condition will be weak. Without it, there are more chances for resistance to the transformation. People in the organization may perceive that “all that culture stuff” is just another example of “lip service”. The attempt at culture transformation then runs the risk of becoming another case in which leaders quickly learn to declare and describe the change they want, but appear incompetent to model it consistently through their behaviors.
For the new behaviors to emerge and be perceived as sincere and legitimate, the mental models in which they are grounded need to change too. For this awareness and commitment process to be possible and agile, the visible connection between the organizational culture gap and the individual leadership style gap needs to be identified. The sooner this happens, the better. This connection must then become a reference to share mutual feedback, to assess progress, and evaluate impact.
One of the most important learnings I’ve had in the 12 years I’ve been managing culture transformation processes, is that culture is built upon the messages RECEIVED by people, not merely on the messages “DELIVERED”. This means that at the end of the day, what matters most is how the organization is reading the leader and how people are interpreting their behaviors. These interpretations could be quite different from how they were intended. A leader’s behavior is a central message carrier in building culture. At the same time, the subjective interpretation of this behavior shows us a critical path to culture change that unavoidably involves the leader’s personal transformation.
Leaders must change
So, to be effective culture builders and transformation agents, leaders need to have more than highly developed communication skills. Even if they perceive themselves as “good communicators,” that’s not enough. Transformational leaders need to step up and be aware of how much their behavior alone is sending messages. Messages that are much louder than those coming from their nice words.
Watch this live webinar recordning where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, will be talking to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.
As my colleague, Elena Ortega, wrote in her recent article, at Axialent we define culture as a set of values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions that govern how we work and what we do. So, how do we go about setting these values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions? Some believe that to define a company’s culture, its leaders simply have to state what they want the culture to be, the values, and mission statement. Having a clear vision of your ideal culture is an important step toward building a strong one. However, behaviors and decisions from leaders will always be the strongest representation of what the company’s culture truly is. Culture and leadership are intimately connected.
Culture and leadership: You cannot truly understand one without the other
Organizational culture and leadership go hand in hand. To understand the culture of an organization, you must examine its leaders and leadership styles. Employees learn the culture of the organization through the messages they receive from its leaders. Whether the messages are consciously sent or not, we observe what is encouraged and discouraged and usually learn to act accordingly (or are forced out).
Culture also plays a role in shaping leaders and their styles. Those leaders that “fit in” to the current culture will thrive. On the other hand, a new leader who brings a different leadership style that is not aligned with the company’s current culture will come up against a lot of resistance from the organization and its people. Culture is a strong force and leaders also receive messages about what they should and shouldn’t do to fit in. If leaders want to change the culture, all leadership must be on board to do so.
These are some of the reasons why we use the OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®). The culture assessment tools (OCI-OEI) allow us to take a deep dive into the current culture. We invite a cross-section of employees to answer the culture surveys in order to truly understand their experience of the organization’s culture. At the same time, we measure the top leaders’ thinking and behavior styles with the LSI tool. Because of the links between these tools, the results provide a powerful way to connect the dots between the leaders’ styles and behaviors, and the current culture.
Leaders define the ideal culture of an organization
Leaders have the power to define the ideal culture based on what they value and believe leads to effectiveness. In turn, they shape the organization’s current culture through the messages they send about what is acceptable and unacceptable. In our culture transformation projects at Axialent, we like to take our diagnostic process a step further and define the ideal culture using another Human Synergistics tool: the OCI Ideal. Combining these tools allows us to get a complete look at the culture and the work that needs to be done to achieve the optimal culture for success. The OCI Ideal shows us where the leaders of the organization want the culture to be. The current OCI results show us where the organization is today. And the LSI tool allows us to examine the leaders’ role in the culture and create a game plan to make lasting change.
Culture and leadership are not two separate entities but are intimately connected. One influences the other and vice versa. This powerful information can be an important driving force in creating and maintaining the culture your organization needs to be successful.
Watch this live webinar recording where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.
“Become the number one or number two player in our industry.” “Grow more than our competitor in the next 12 months.” These are both valid statements of a goal for an organization and what comes next is identifying the “how” or the strategies that you believe will take you there. What could be wrong with this process? Let me elaborate.
Throughout my years of helping leaders around the world, I have found very different reasons as to why entrepreneurs start companies. For example, Disney was founded “To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions”. Google aims “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. LinkedIn aspires “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”. Mercado Libre, “To democratize commerce and money in Latin America.”
These statements are the original dreams of the founders of these organizations, dreams that these successful companies were able to actualize. They set out to change the world, to transform it into a better place. This served, and continues to serve, as an aspiration and inspiration for others to follow and to give their vital energy to the enterprise.
Strategy and Execution
Fred Kofman writes in The Meaning Revolution that being part of a venture that is bigger than ourselves, will transcend us and can become our “immortality project.” Fred says “I believe the most deep-seated, unspoken, and universal anxiety in all of us is the fear that our life is being wasted. That death will surprise us when our song is still unsung. We worry not just about our physical death, but also, perhaps more significantly, our symbolic one. We are afraid that our lives won’t matter, that we won’t have made a difference, that we will leave no trace in this world after we are gone.”
This is critically important. However, it is also paramount to identify the strategies that will help you achieve your goals and to actualize your purpose. This is the “how” of the enterprise. Once we know where we want to go, deciding the way to take us there will provide the blueprint for a successful journey. What will actually change the state of things is effective execution. It is here that many strategies falter. People perhaps won’t accept accountability or do what they promised to do. They may not collaborate with their colleagues or will engage in ego driven turf wars to prove “I am right, and you are wrong.” Strategies often fail not because they are poorly designed, but because they are poorly executed.
Culture In Service Of Business Strategy
I have discovered throughout my years as a consultant that culture is the binding element that connects all these aspects; purpose, goals, strategy and successful execution. The right culture can be an incredible asset for actualizing purpose, while the wrong culture can become an insurmountable obstacle.
I believe that these fundamental elements, actioned at the service of the purpose and done repeatedly, will change the world. They will transform it into a more conscious, loving, compassionate and wiser world; a place where people can pursue their dreams of helping themselves, others and the planet.
Axialent has been helping companies globally for 17 years to build cultures that support business strategy execution. In this live webinar, I interviewed Pedro Arnt, CFO, on how Mercado Libre (MELI) has built and leveraged an effective culture to achieve the incredible growth and success of the organization.
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.
Our world is changing faster than ever and with those changes, we need to learn to adapt quickly and intelligently. Scenario planning 2.0, as my colleague Fran Cherny describes it in his recent webinar, is all about how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly. But what exactly is the role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence?
The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence
Ongoing reviews and adjustments are an essential part of execution and that’s where applying scenario planning 2.0 is most effective. To do so, we must first slow down enough to be able to smoothly read, listen, and integrate new information. Only then will we able to rapidly respond and adjust execution moving forward.
Traditional scenario planning is a crucial part of strategy and business planning. It helps us consider different options and possibilities, depending on the marketplace’s current situation. Traditional scenario planning is part of good business planning; key to a company’s plan to operationalize its strategy. However, scenario planning 2.0 is different. Learning how to implement it is an important skill that any great leader needs to practice in the pursuit of execution excellence during times of fast change and uncertainly.
Axialent’s approach to execution includes developing an execution infrastructure, as well as managing the ongoing implementation of work. Part five of the model below shows how execution is managed in an organization. It is during these implementation cycles that scenario planning 2.0 will have the greatest impact. Organizations must have meetings to discuss how to manage new information and make decisions with regards to what processes, mindsets, and behaviors need to change. Once these decisions have been made, leaders can adjust the areas of their execution plan that require attention and continue to review and improve them throughout the cycles. Here is a model that illustrates our approach:
The impact of new information
Reading, listening, and integrating new information as it arises can impact aspects of a business’s execution infrastructure. Most importantly, integrating new information can change in people’s mindsets and behaviors, and the processes that support collaboration. The two essential aspects of execution infrastructure that are most affected by these changes are people and process (seen in the model above). Making adjustments in response to these changes does not require stopping execution implementation. Instead, it highlights the areas that will most be impacted by new information, (i.e. people, process, and direction).
The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence is an important one. Although traditional scenario planning has been a core part of strategy and business planning, in the current conditions, scenario planning 2.0 is core to execution. By leveraging this practice and the components of execution infrastructure, we can quickly make adjustments to processes, mindsets, and behaviors. This, in turn, builds capability as business moves forward and makes directional changes.
In recent months, we have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and a fast-changing world. As my colleague, Thierry, and I discussed in the article Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, even though people are still struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we need to find a way to reconnect with our future, vision, and possibilities. In addition, people are dealing with guilt about colleagues who have been laid off, and pressure to do additional work to keep the organization alive and hopefully, thriving. Planning for the future in crisis has never been so challenging, or so important.
Planning for the Future in Crisis
How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? Can we plan and create a vision if we don’t yet know how to adapt to the recent changes? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?
There is a way. It needs to address business planning, but also build trust within the team and inspire and energize team members. It requires learning a new skill and putting a new process in place that many leaders are not familiar with… yet. It all can be learned through practice.
We’ll call this process: “Back to the Future: the art of scenario planning 2.0”. You may remember the movie “Back to the Future 2,” where Doc Brown taught us that the present and future as we know it could change in many different directions with new events we didn’t plan for. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you now have a plan for the weekend!) This has always happened to some degree, but the speed of change has never been as fast and disruptive as it is right now.
Many of you might be familiar with traditional scenario planning. The intention and process we need to apply in the current situation are very different. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly. Doing this simple 3 part exercise with our teams will help.
1. Understand and align common assumptions
Check people’s assumptions to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Do you think people will act the same if one thinks the vaccine for Covid-19 will be ready in 6 months and the other in 18 months? What happens when half of your team thinks that people will not travel again and will be spending more time at home and the other half thinks things will go back to normal sooner or later?
All of these different opinions lead people to make decisions that affect how you run the business and their level of engagement and commitment.
Creating the conversation and allowing the team to discuss common assumptions will put them to work in the same direction.
The question to ask your team is: What do you think will happen in the world in the next 3 months that will affect our business?
2. Cascading common assumptions into execution teams:
Once we align the common assumptions, we need to analyze how this will impact the work of each team.
For example, if we believe that people won’t be able to travel for at least 6 more months, how that will affect consumption based on the industry I’m in?
Then, the next question to ask is: What does my team need to do differently, based on the assumptions agreed upon, and how this will affect our business? Each leader needs to identify 2 or 3 critical things that the team needs to start approaching differently.
3. Cascading our team needs to our leadership focus:
If the team needs to do some things differently, we need to think quickly about what we need to do to make it happen.
When we are in such fast-changing environments, the speed of change is a competitive advantage or a liability.
The key question is: What do I need to do differently in the next 2 weeks to support my team and make changes with speed and agility?
Remember, you are the main lever for your team to adapt quickly.
By doing this simple exercise with your team, you will provide direction, a sense of alignment, and also, something that contributes to the common strategy. You will move from uncertainty to action and help everyone feel like part of the solution.
Planning for the future in crisis is always a challenge, but connecting with your team using the process outlined above provides a roadmap of how it can be done. This is not meant to be a one-time exercise. While you are reading this article, many assumptions I have right now might be different from when I originally wrote this, even if it’s only a week later. The faster things are changing, the more often you should run this exercise. As a leader of an organization, I would run it at least every 6 weeks under the current circumstances. Find the frequency that works for you. As you do this, you will be strengthening the muscle of agility, adaptability, and innovation. What else you can ask for? “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
To contact Axialent about facilitating this powerful exercise with your team, click here.
Change is easier when we don’t miss the “burning bush” moments.
I wouldn’t mind a “burning bush” moment, but who am I? And who talks like that? I mean, besides Moses.
The other day, a Jedi friend (Vid) invited/dared a group of us to notice our way of paying attention — challenging us to really focus on the quality of our attention so that we don’t miss the reveal/the messages about our mission for next year, our calling for the next 10 years, or our purpose for the rest of our lives.
It is very easy to miss…we’re all so busy.
He went on to explain how it was actually the quality of Moses’ attention that allowed him (Moses) to notice the uniqueness of the burning bush, which then caused him to take interest and dared him to draw near. With a little more care, curiosity and concern, he became “exquisitely present” and therefore ready to learn about the new master plan that was in store for him.
I wonder how many burning bushes I continuously walk right past when the quality of my attention is compromised or because I’m not really even looking for it. We certainly can’t find what we’re not looking for. If the quality of my attention is not deliberately, exquisitely, evermore present, I’m likely to just keep missing it. Am I missing it on purpose? Maybe I’m not really open to a new master plan after all. Maybe I’m unconsciously just fine settling for the old reliable “Plan A” (keeping the status quo in place), delivering my current level performance. Maybe my strategy is to change very little and just keep hoping for the best. Maybe I’m not ready for the Red Sea moments that follow the burning bush moments. “I sure hope 2019 is better than 2018,” a friend blurted out to me in passing. “So what are you going to do differently in 2019 to make sure that it is better?” I responded to her question with a question, knowing all along that it was really directed inward, at myself. Then I kind of got in her face (my own face) and said, “Let’s get specific. Let’s build your 2019 plan.” I think this kind of annual year-end recap/reflection and next year/next level planning exercise (see questions below) is the closest I’m going to get to a burning bush experience. I’m no Moses. For a clear, actionable plan to be revealed, I have to slow down, take my shoes off, pay attention and draw near.
Only a very small percent of the population have clear goals/priorities let alone write them down. Yet when we do write them down, we are exponentially more successful at achieving our next level goals/priorities.
This post is an invitation to myself and others to slow down, take interest and dare to draw near. Let’s spark our own pseudo-burning bush moment. Use this list of reflection-provoking, planning questions below. Modify them, make them your own, or use a different list of questions to capture your thinking for an increased likelihood of success in 2019.
We don’t want to miss the burning bush moments. We want to draw near in order to be sent out more effectively — maybe even to become a burning bush ourselves.
2018 Current Year/Current Level Reflection and 2019 Next Year/Next Level Planning
2018 Current Year/Current Level Reflection
What did I love most about 2018? When was I happiest?
What am I most grateful for from 2018?
Which three moments were most meaningful?
Where did I really use my strengths?
How did I live out my values/purpose?
What were my biggest disappointments? …frustrations? …failures?
What were my biggest inconsistencies with my values/purpose/priorities?
What still makes me feel angry? …sad? …anxious? …scared?
What is the most honest thing I can say about my disappointments?
What is the most compassionate thing I could say to myself about my disappointments? (reframing)
What momentum did I start to build in 2018 that I want to take forward?
2019 Next Year/Next Level Planning (A more complex spreadsheet template is available upon request for those interested.)
What do I love to do that I want to do more of in 2019?
What core values are most inspiring to me?
What priorities do I want to focus on in 2019?
What would be most inspiring for me to accomplish in 2019?
Strategy execution is a central issue for companies and their directors. Academics and executives have long been researching for the best theories, practices and effectiveness. Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies. Figure 1 shows the average performance loss (by importance ratings) that managers gave to specific breakdowns in the planning and execution process
Figure 1 – average performance loss in specific breakdowns in the planning and execution process
All but one of the factors presented in Figure 1 is controlled by the leadership. In addition, the reasons for this high failure rate can be traced to both hard and soft skills. By hard skills, we mean the processes and methods to organize ideas and to establish indicators, among other management tools, that are taught at most business schools. On the other hand, strategic execution soft skills are the intra and interpersonal attitudes and behaviors that engage people to deliver the processes The hard side: the strategic execution and alignment process and tools
The term “strategic administration” (and, further, “strategic management”) comes from the 1960’s, when academics, especially Igor Ansoff, questioned the efficacy of performing the strategic planning process once a year. As a result, several models and theories were developed over time. One of the most popular of these models was introduced by Kaplan & Norton, and is illustrated on Figure 2. By management system, the authors refer to the integrated set of processes and tools that a company uses to develop its strategy, translate it into operational actions, and monitor and improve the effectiveness of both.
The model includes five stages, beginning with the strategy development stage, which involves applying tools, processes, and concepts such as mission, vision, and value statements, SWOT analysis, shareholder value management, competitive positioning, core competencies, etc. to formulate a strategy statement. That statement is then translated (Stage 2) into specific objectives and initiatives, using other tools and processes, including strategy maps and balanced scorecards.
Strategy implementation (Stage 3), in turn, links strategy to operations with a third set of tools and processes, including quality and process management, reengineering, process dashboards, rolling forecasts, activity-based costing, resource capacity planning, and dynamic budgeting.
As implementation progresses, managers continually review internal operational data and external data on competitors and the business environment. Finally, managers periodically assess the strategy, updating it when they learn that the assumptions underlying it are obsolete or faulty, which starts another loop around the system.
Figure 2 – Kaplan & Norton Closed-Loop Management System
Level order planning is a planning model based on the formal logic of cascading goals and strategies throughout an organization to drive action towards the creation of a future desired business state. In Figure 3, the formal logic of goal oriented planning is illustrated. Goals and strategies are cascaded throughout the organization based on the transfer of strategies from one level to the goals of the next level. This simple model describes how alignment of direction is achieved throughout different levels of an organization.
As you begin the planning process throughout the levels, it is important to understand the definitions of goals, strategies and tactics. First and foremost, the definition of a goal, strategy or tactic can be answered best in the context of the level within which it is being defined. One level’s goals may be another level’s strategies. For example, in the chart below, a second level’s goals are derived directly from the first level’s strategies and so on.
Goals define a future desired business state relative to the part of the organization that is defining the goal. Goals can be stated as measurement and this is often a clear way to define their intended purpose. Strategies are a statement of “how to” accomplish a goal. Strategies further define action for the organization. Tactics are most important at the level of planning closest to the customer. Although tactics can exist at each level within the enterprise, tactics always describe “what” actions need to be taken to fulfill a particular strategy.
Figure 3 – Strategic Alignment and Level Order Planning
The soft side: conscious business, alignment and coordination
Hard tools and processes are a necessary but insufficient condition for impeccable execution. Statistics show that alignment is not a problem. Coordination and collaboration are. A recent study showed that 84% of managers can rely all or most of the time on their bosses or their direct reports. However, when this question is about colleagues in other departments and external partners, positive answers drop to 59% and 56%, respectively. What it comes down to is that most executives are just not used to coordinate and collaborate
To increase execution effectiveness, then, we need to look at the “who”. The “who” refers to the people that control the tactics, that manage the systems and processes and that insure the execution of the strategy. No matter what type of business or situation, the only way to guarantee effective execution is through talented, motivated and conscious employees, led by conscious leaders in a conscious business context.
By conscious employees and leaders, we mean those that demonstrate seven qualities, as defined by Fred Kofman (Figure 4). The first three are character attributes: unconditional responsibility, essential integrity, and ontological humility. The next three are interpersonal skills: authentic communication, constructive negotiation, and impeccable coordination. These qualities seem obvious but they challenge deep-seated assumptions we hold about ourselves, other people, and the world.
Figure 4 – Conscious Business Principles
In addition, every organization has three dimensions, as shown in Figure 5: the impersonal, task, or “It;” the interpersonal, relationship, or “We;” and the personal, self, or “I.” The impersonal realm includes technical aspects. It considers the effectiveness, efficiency, and reliability of the organization. The interpersonal realm comprises relational aspects. It considers the solidarity, trust, and respect of the relationships between organizational stakeholders. The personal realm comprises psychological and behavioral aspects. It considers the health, happiness, and need for meaning of each stakeholder.
Over the long term, the “It”, “We”, and “I” aspects of this system must operate in concert. Execution (the “It”) will not be effective without equally strong interpersonal solidarity (“We”) and personal well-being (“I”).
Figure 5 – Integral Approach: Three Dimensions
Finally, as shown in Figure 6, our attention is normally drawn to that which we can see (the effect), which obscures the importance of what remains hidden (the cause). We focus on results (the having) and forget the process (the doing) necessary to achieve those results. We are even less aware of the infrastructure (the being) that underlies processes and provides the necessary capabilities for their functioning. Achieving specific results requires behaving in the way that produces such results, and behaving in such a way requires being the type of person or organization capable of such behavior.
Thus, the highest leverage comes from becoming the person or organization capable of behaving in the way that produces the desired results.
Figure 6 – Integral Approach: Three Levels
The path to impeccable execution
The path to impeccable execution is presented in Figure 7, where we compare and contrast the hard and soft skills, and how they interact with each other. The worst-case scenario is in the lower left-hand quadrant, with low soft and hard skills. This situation is very rare, since companies in this condition would not be sustainable in a competitive world over the long haul.
The most common case we see is in the upper left-hand quadrant, the one we call “Mechanical Process” (high hard, low soft skills). For example, we worked with a mid-sized service company facing this problem. One senior manager was consistently getting negative feedback from the CEO in every strategy execution meeting (stage 4, in Figure 2). However, he didn’t seem to care, didn’t seem to change his behavior and consistently failed to deliver on his commitments. After several attempts to identify the root cause of the problem, he finally confessed that he didn’t know how to coordinate his team.
The lower right-hand side (low hard, high soft skills), the situation we call “Unleveraged Energy”, is a strange case, but it also is present in a variety of companies. An example is a large telecom company we worked with, that had 10 regional units. In one case, they tried to develop an inventory of projects, integrating all the projects from all the units into a single plan. At the time, they had more than 300 initiatives, and many of these were identical to others in other units. Because of the work, they were able to reduce their investments by $6 million just by identifying repeated projects among the units and joining them.
Finally, in the upper right-hand corner (high hard and soft skills), we find the situation we call “Impeccable Execution”. In our experience, we don’t see many companies in this space, but we are encouraged to note some positive growing trends here.
Figure 7 – The Path to Impeccable Execution
One important case in this space was the successful design and implementation of a Strategic Alignment project (Figure 8) in our client, Microsoft LatAm.
Through a focused plan of alignment and coordination at all levels, that included more than 350 managers from across the region, all teams became aligned with common goals, interdependent strategies and detailed action plans. The employees’ individual commitments also were tied to the company’s strategic direction. The process created strong organizational alignment and a culture of accountability throughout the region, from the Leadership Team to individual contributors.
The results were nothing short of spectacular: The region’s revenues grew 49.7% in four years while the region scored the highest rating in the company’s internal organizational climate survey. The planning process itself became a company best practice.
Figure 8 – Strategic Alignment Process
As the Microsoft example shows, Impeccable Execution is possible when you have the right balance between hard tools and soft skills. All else depends on luck! It is time that more companies recognize the importance of these soft skills and move towards an execution mindset in addition to their tools and KPIs. In addition to alignment, this will foster coordination and collaboration, which will increase execution effectiveness.