A Good Strategy Describes What You Will Do During the Middle
A big reason for the stalls that too often occur in the Middle is that many organizations mistake listing end goals as a strategy: Our strategy is to double our revenue in these two key market segments. Our strategy is to provide innovative products that create a new market. Our strategy is to develop the strongest indirect channel.
You become excited about the wonderful achievement at the end, but there is nothing in the definition of that end goal that tells you specifically what to do, which way to go about it, what problems you need to solve, or what you need to fix, change, stop, or invent to get there—these are all things that need to happen in the Middle. These are all things that describe what you will do.
Leaders: Execution Is Not Beneath You
So many executives keep their role in strategy at the big, exciting goal level. Many leaders resist getting involved with execution. It’s as though they believe that once they communicate the strategy, people throughout the organization will suddenly understand what new work they have to do; resources will be automatically reassigned without any pain; and individuals will understand how to prioritize new tasks over current work, so it will just get done. It won’t. Just because you said what the strategy is, it doesn’t mean people will do the right things to implement it.
Your job at making the strategy come true does not stop after you announce it. One of the hardest things to do is to get an organization to stop doing what it is currently doing and start doing the different thing that it needs to be doing. You can’t just expect your team to find its way through the Middle. Without your involvement, your organization will go back to doing what it is already doing.
You need to take personal responsibility for what happens in the Middle, because what happens in the Middle is the part where stuff actually gets done!
Team: Don’t Wait—Start Helping
Executive management can lead transformation, but they can’t do transformation without you. You have a real opportunity to stand out by helping define what is required in your part of the organization through the long Middle. You can stand out by helping your peers get on board as well. The success of the business depends on getting you and enough of your peers and teams to take personal ownership to define and do new things.
Don’t wait to be asked and certainly don’t wait to be pushed. Personal leadership in transformation is important at every level. It’s not only the job of executive management to think strategically and creatively about implementing strategy. We all must.
What Happens in the Middle, Exactly?
The problem is not just a communication gap between the executives and the team.…It’s that no one anywhere in the organization has articulated what the team needs to do to implement the new strategy.
Once you launch your new strategy, when everyone wakes up the next morning, what is different—specifically?
A company can be really clear about what it wants to accomplish, yet struggle to articulate the specific tasks that will make those goals come true. A strategy must describe what you will do, including how you will measure and resource it. Strategy must clarify specific action.
Focus on Mid-Term Checkpoints
There is a strong organizational tendency for people to think that they don’t have to worry about anything in month 1 of an 18-month initiative.
When people focus only on the long-term end goal, then the first step in their long-term journey is a delay. It’s important to create a framing of the initiative in a way that avoids this early sense of complacency.
By placing these clear, mid-term checkpoints on a timeline, you will create the light posts that the organization needs in order to see where they are going through the long Middle—and to keep going. These become not only your mid-term checkpoints, but also your enablers of urgency—if you place them on a timeline so they occur at an aggressive pace, you will be creating the urgency you desire.
Good Measures and Bad Measures
The right measures are so important. If you can get it right, you can achieve the holy grail of being confident about progress without getting overly involved in tracking detail. But just like there are end goals masquerading as good strategy, there are often bad measures standing in for truly meaningful ones.
- Bad measures: Activities and details
- Good measures: Control points and outcomes
Many times we select bad measures simply because they are the easiest thing to measure. We placate ourselves with the fact that we are measuring something. But, in fact, we may be doing more harm than good.
Imagine your goal is to improve the performance of customer service reps, so you put them all through customer service training. If you have a success measure of “# of customer service reps who have gone through training,” that is a measure of the activity—that they have gone through the training. It tells you literally nothing about whether or not they have become better at their jobs.
There Is No Effective Antidote for the Wrong Team
There is no more important thing you can do as a business leader than to build the right team.
With the right team, you can take on any challenge, and most of your energy is focused on actually moving forward.
With the wrong team, you work too hard—for not enough return. You get frustrated and tired. As a leader you need to spend too much of your time and energy compensating for the fact that you don’t have the right team.
Making changes to your team is never easy to do. There is always angst and controversy and risk in getting there. But it is always worth it.
Are All of Your Managers Good Managers?
Many organizations settle for having people in managerial roles, who quite simply are not good managers. Some common causes for this are that people have been promoted because they excelled at doing their job function, or simply because there was a need for another manager to reduce the span of control, so they just named an individual to lead part of the team. Selections are sometimes made in ways that seem as though it doesn’t matter. It matters! It is one of the things that matters most.
One of the biggest things you can do to impact your business growth and bottom line is to insist that every manager is a good manager.
With bad managers lurking about in your organization, people who should be doing work are instead getting confused, discouraged, frustrated, and scared. Bad managers are preventing them from doing the right things for the business, so your strategy stalls.
You need your managers to be engaging, motivating, supporting, and facilitating the right work, not preventing it.
Performance management is not just about writing a review once a year and sitting down to an awkward conversation. Performance management can and should be about tuning performance so that your organization is clear about what behaviors are expected and rewarded and which ones are not tolerated. In a transformation it’s necessary to spell it out: [This] is the increased performance necessary and expected in your role to help drive our transformation.
Willingness, ability, and motivation to personally lead transformation needs to be something that you measure people on, and give them stretch goals for.
You need to build the behaviors you want to see in supporting your transformation into people’s performance objectives at all levels of the organization. In a transformation, you want to inspire your top performers to really stretch and you want to make it clear to the people who are not actively helping that they are not meeting expectations.
Lack of clarity about performance expectations related to the transformation creates opportunities every day to ignore the important new work that needs to get done during the Middle.
Delegating = Developing
If you want to build the capability of your team, a good place to start is with your top performers. If you can get your top performers to step up, you can free yourself up to do bigger and better things. Think how much more you and your team could do if you had some people on your team as capable as you are. Think of the important, strategic work you could do if you could delegate more big stuff to top performers. Think about how much more energy you could put into leading your transformation if you could clear your plate of much of the work you have now.
Here are three important ways to use the succession idea as you delegate for maximum development. And if your goal is in fact to develop a successor, these are still the right things to do:
- Let them practice your work
- Let them practice your relationships
- Let them practice your decisions
If People Don’t Care on A Personal Level, They Won’t Move
When you are thinking about what it will take to get and keep people moving, it’s important to remember that money is not the strongest motivator—meaning is. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to change behavior, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pay people differently. But if you don’t create meaning for people on an individual level, they will not have any personal motivation to move your strategy forward, which is more powerful than money. If you can make people feel that their work is meaningful, you can unlock a tremendous amount of power in your organization.
If you want a mission that employees care about, it starts with you actually caring about something. The employees will never care if the leaders don’t.
You don’t need to specifically call something a mission statement (and you might be better off if you don’t!), but you do need to stand for something and care about something for real if you want people to truly engage, to be motivated to spring into action, to run forward and solve problems for you when you release the brake.
When Nothing Happens
One of the things that many companies seem to miss is the connection between execution and consequences. The reason why many organizations have so much trouble making strategic progress and doing what they intend to do, on time, is because when they fail to meet a deadline…nothing happens.
The date comes and goes and no one talks about it.
People who were on the hook either assume that they have been granted more time, or it wasn’t that important to begin with. And then there is no new focused deadline established because no one is talking about it at all.
If you don’t address the very first deadline slip on the strategic thing, the urgent tactical demands of the moment take over, and strategic progress becomes a low priority and a distant memory. People will say, “Aha, I guess we are not still doing this.”
If you need to make strategic progress, you can’t let any deadline come and go and leave the failure totally unacknowledged and unexamined
Without measures and consequences, anything else you do for motivation becomes hollow and pointless. The work has to matter. If failing to get it done on time doesn’t matter, by definition, the work doesn’t matter.
Everyone: Share What You Know
It is natural not to share what we each know on our own; it is not interesting to us—because we already know it!
We all take what we already know for granted. But people who are in other groups or other sites would love to know what we know! Headquarters would love to know what great things happened to customers or in regional branches. People in remote geographies would love to be in the loop on what is getting decided in corporate. Why is this so hard?
By first making these lists, people get reminded that there are others who exist out there in the organization who would benefit from knowing what they know. Anything you can do to make this happen on purpose is a good thing.
You Can’t Achieve a Transformation Without Trust
Virtually all of the things in this book are steps that will result in building trust.
The thing about trust is that there is no neutral. You are either building trust or you are destroying it.
If you do nothing, trust will bleed out of the system because people will not see you showing up, personally doing and investing in the things that build trust. Even if you are not doing anything bad, you are still letting trust degrade by your inaction—without a specific focus on building trust, your transformation is not likely to get done well, on time, or at all
Building trust is not a “nice to have”; it’s directly related to the bottom line and the success of your transformation.
When people feel trusted and they trust you, they will work harder and faster, be more innovative, get more done, and treat customers better. They will trust you when they are in the Middle and can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will keep going.
They will MOVE.