Planning is the essential first step in my PACER Action Model (Plan-Act-Control-Evaluate-Revise/Reward). Ideally, for a business or an individual, a strong plan consists of an overarching vision of what the organization or person wants to become—what author Simon Sinek has called the “why.”
From that vision, strategies should be developed which break down into the tactical project plans that will drive monthly, weekly, and daily actions. This process brings big picture, 50,000 foot plans down to ground-level, where action must take place.
Such planning, then, leads to the second component of the PACER Model: Act. It is here that deliberation gives way to decisiveness and energetic movement. Peters and Waterman’s business classic, In Search of Excellence, refers to this as a “bias for action, for getting on with it.” The authors note that truly excellent companies—and I would add, people—follow the axiom: “Do it, fix it, try it.” When plans have been formed, EXECUTE!
Consider the following ten proven principles for successful execution of your plans:
- Make sure that the actions expected link directly to desired outcomes as set forth in your plans and projects. Activity without a focus on outcomes is generally waste. Define actions that are essential to achieving your planned objectives—and do them!
- Recognize that the financial outcomes in your plans are lagging indicators. Focus on desired outcomes that drive financial success, namely customer satisfaction, operational excellence, employee competence, and recruitment and retention of an all-star team. Making money is certainly important, but it should be a function of the successful achievement of these other key elements of your plans.
- Recognize that company excellence almost always is a function of individual effort and achievement. Make sure each team member knows his or her role and is equipped to perform that role in an exemplary way. Leaders must sustain the essential actions expected of each key individual. This entails not only role clarity, but encouragement, support, and a feedback system that ensures individual accountability.
- Encourage your people to see their jobs as investments in personal excellence. Couch your language around “investing time,” rather than “spending time.” Be committed to the growth and development of your people. Let them know that you expect everyone to work to their full potential. Show your willingness to invest in their success by training and developing their skills.
- Adopt a kaizen, or continuous improvement, attitude. While actions constitute the execution of plans, many enhancements of those plans should come “on the fly” in day-to-day work. Continuous improvement is an important attitude in successful execution. Many successful companies today encourage trystorming, whereby their employees are encouraged to test-drive new ideas to improve actions and outcomes.
- Empower your people to seize opportunities and responsibility. Allow for “reasonable risk-taking” while implementing plans. This means that mistakes aren’t punished when they are made in taking initiative to accomplish desired outcomes. Only malicious or negligent errors should have punitive consequences. A mistake-tolerant culture contributes to a highly engaged and largely worry-free workforce. Best-selling business author of Multipliers, Liz Wiseman, suggests that leaders should create an action environment that “creates intensity that requires (each individual’s) best thinking, giving them permission to think and the space to do their best work.” She emphasizes the importance of eliminating fear and stress, while fostering intensity focused on achieving excellence.
- Reach out to the key stakeholders in any action area or project with enthusiasm, not fear. Often new initiatives are untested, but if you have planned well, don’t discount your planning. Move forward with a positive attitude. You will find it’s infectious!
- Accept that there will be bumps in the road—and assure your team that they are coming. Approach these problems and challenges as opportunities. Make sure that the distress that often initially accompanies such challenges is addressed. Consider worst-case scenarios, then facilitate brainstorming of solutions. Encourage your people to see themselves as problem-solvers who can’t be defeated.
- Be sure to lead out on these key principles. Be personally committed to being a high achiever and a facilitator of the achievement of others. Lead by example. Walk your talk!
- Endure to the end. This means that you:
- provide visionary leadership, that is, the vision for the business is kept as the North Star in the day-to-day dialogue of the company.
- provide oversight on every key strategy and the projects that comprise those strategies. Distractions and problems will inevitably seep into your organization to disrupt critical actions and outcomes. You must provide the oversight to assure that things stay on track.
- Celebrate successes, both in actions completed and outcomes achieved.
These ten principles constitute a roadmap for strong execution at both the organizational and personal level. They require work, but when consistently employed they render steady progress toward successful achievement of your plans and strategies.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses