Some things never seem to change. About thirty years ago, James Treybig, the president of Tandem Computers, called a meeting with the engineering leadership team. He opined that when there were about 20 people in engineering, the team regularly performed miracles. 3 years later, he observed that with 300 people in engineering, it seemed like nothing was getting done. He was puzzled by this and wanted to know why. How many executives are feeling the same frustration today?
Too many executives know that business execution, collaboration and productivity aren’t what they could or should be. While there are certainly fewer people employed in most companies today, the employees that remain aren’t accomplishing more. There’s plenty of gridlock, angst, frustration and unhappiness to go around. Executives crave:
• improved business execution
• improved collaboration amongst individuals and teams
• doing more with less (people, resources, time, etc.)
What executives crave really hasn’t changed much. Jimmy had posed a great question with no simple answer. The problem had multiple dimensions:
• There were too many meetings–there was little time to do the actual work
• Decisions were made by consensus–there was a lack of direction about how to negotiate a consensus climate
• Roles and responsibilities weren’t well defined–when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible
• There didn’t appear to be a sense of urgency–did you see our record financial results last quarter? The quarter before that?
• There were a number of sacred cow projects, some with dubious projected returns.
For the vast majority of companies and departments, the challenges we discussed in that meeting 30 years ago prevail today. What needs to be done?
Understand–from your employees perspective–critical areas that likely are undermining your business:
◦ Have meetings simply become a way of life?
◦ Are meetings contributing to your organization’s effectiveness or inhibiting it?
◦ Is being double- and triple-booked for meetings a badge of honor?
◦ Are your people aware of the best practices for running meetings based on the meeting type?
◦ Are meetings the best way to collaborate based on a specific need or are there alternatives?
◦ Are decisions really made only at the top?
◦ Do employees feel that they play an important role?
◦ Is the decision-making process enhancing or undermining relationships?
Business execution within critical business processes–priority must be given to customer-facing processes
◦ What is working well and what is not?
◦ What needs to be tightened up?
I use a 2×2 matrix contrasting strategy with execution to understand vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement.
You can select a topic such as your own company, a competitor, a critical company function such as product development, customer service, operations, etc., meetings, decision-making, etc., and rate strategy (how effective is our strategy) versus execution (how well are we executing). It is worthwhile examining the same topic from different perspectives, e.g., internal customers, external customers, the marketplace, etc., to develop a more comprehensive understanding.
As Marshall Goldsmith offers, “what got you here, won’t get you there.” If the areas identified above were easy to improve, companies wouldn’t continue to be plagued by them all these years. Most executives are too close to the problems to see what can be done about them. Isn’t it time you took a closer look?
This blog post was co-authored by Dave Gardner and Daniel Markovitz. Dave is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. He can be reached through his website at www.gardnerandassoc.com or via Twitter @Gardner_Dave.
Daniel Markovitz is a consultant who helps companies bridge the gap between strategy and execution. He teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program and the Fisher School of Business at the Ohio State University. He can be reached via his website at www.timebackmanagement.com.