This piece is co-authored with Bob Legge, president of Legge & Company. He specializes in successfully implementing strategy, leading organizational change, and improving executive effectiveness.
It’s no secret that most strategic plans fail to deliver their intended results. Often, the problem isn’t the strategy, but how it’s implemented. Many leaders erroneously conclude that the answer is simply to drive the organization harder and ‘put their feet to the fire.’ But that risks burning out the very people you need to make the strategy happen and keep it moving. We’ve all either been in organizations where this is the case or have heard about them, and the toll on people is high. Here are three keys to successfully implementing strategy and achieving your goals without causing burnout.
Strengthen accountability for results. Get people focused on the results they need to accomplish, instead of overloading them with activities and to-do lists. Start by looking at your organization’s position descriptions. If they list 27 tasks and job responsibilities, your employees may be confused about which ones are most important and how to handle so many responsibilities. Instead, identify the 4-8 ongoing results the position is designed to accomplish and for which the person is accountable. When the desired results are clear, it brings tremendous focus. It also makes it far easier to set measures and evaluate performance.
Similarly, when organizations impose lengthy and bureaucratic procedures to get something done—think of project management—people lose sight of what the result is because they’re forever following process, getting signoffs and doing paperwork instead of focusing on results. And when that happens, you have busy people getting burned out without really accomplishing anything, and they confuse inputs with outputs. Put in place a clear system for setting accountability, establishing how results will be measured, and managing progress.
Strengthen accountability for behaviors. Any significant business strategy involves some degree of change – in direction, focus, structure, process, or a number of other factors. What makes it successful is how well it’s sponsored by senior management, both in words and in actions. A gas and electric utility Bob worked with was having a very difficult time implementing a company wide Enterprise Resource Planning system because employees at lower levels in the organization refused to use it. But the problem wasn’t the employees – it was senior management. While each executive spoke of the project’s overall strategic importance, when it came to setting work priorities for their people, the strategic project was bumped down the list. “That’s IT’s project,” they would tell their people, “and I need you to work on our projects.” As a result, the strategy was in danger of failing. You need to make sure your accountability system reinforces the behaviors needed to implement the strategy.
Build an employee population that acts like owners. You don’t see many people taking rental cars to car washes for a simple reason—they don’t own the cars. Companies that are excellent at reaching strategic goals have developed employee populations who act like owners; they do the right thing with gusto because it’s in their own best interests to do so. This is not the same thing as giving people pizza parties, coffee mugs, or workout facilities. Those may help create a good place to work, but they don’t create a sense of ownership. Instead, you need to connect the strategy to each individual’s role and appeal to the individual’s own rational self-interests.
A leading consumer goods manufacturer Bob worked with created a team approach to a manufacturing line, challenging the employees to ‘own’ the entire line’s performance and giving them all the information and support needed to do so. The employees established their own goals, tracked metrics, solved problems, made improvements and took full responsibility for the operation of the line. The result? Better results on every measure and more energized, productive, and satisfied employees.
Your company can implement similar systems throughout the organization tied to career challenge, the next promotion, safety improvements, or other interests. If you want your employees to act like owners, stop treating them like employees.
You won’t successfully achieve strategic objectives by driving – however aggressively – an action plan that’s simply layered on top of “business as usual.” Instead, you have to think clearly about accountability and ensure the entire organization is working toward your objectives.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on May 8, 2013.
Bob Legge is president of Legge & Company. He specializes in successfully implementing strategy, leading organizational change, and improving executive effectiveness.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.