What are the most important elements for consistent, excellent execution?
The elements needed for successful execution are deceptively easy to name, yet difficult to act on, whether one is working on a recurrent daily, weekly, or quarterly process or on a project. Can we have “Predictable Execution,” not just what we deliver?
Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy, co-authors of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, define execution as the “systematic process of rigorously discussing the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ of plans made, questioning, ensuring accountability and tenacious follow through and achieving end results.”
Genuine execution success means that the project or on-going process is:
- On time;
- On budget;
- Meets business objectives;
- Meets technical objectives;
- Meets human objectives.
The cost of execution failure
Each time an execution fails to achieve its stated human, technical, and business objectives – even when on time and within budget – it incurs short and long-term costs and has direct and indirect consequences.
How can the finance department contribute to success and help others succeed? Analysis and data are areas that finance people are particularly driven by and are certainly an important part of the process. Finance is capable of making a notable and positive difference.
Should finance reach out to others in the organization and help them think through these costs? What are the real objectives and what data/dashboard can we determine? How would this involvement affect our results and relationships?
The 4D Execution Process is straightforward
Although the above 4Ds seem like they are part of a project management plan, where can finance add real value?
Execution factors for success
- Discipline: Align expectations with accountability for behaviors, the plan, and the process. We perpetuate what we allow.
- Decisiveness: Make the decision, even tough ones without over analysis.
- Data-driven decision: Use needed/specific data for informed decisions and analysis. How can Big Data and Analytics help?
- Development: Use execution as conscious opportunities for talent development and provide resources to those needing development.
- Include success measures (business, technical, human objectives).
- Keep a compelling dashboard (simple, right metrics). Do they know when they are on track or off track? People are more engaged and perform better when they know the score and they are keeping the score.
- Use dialogue as a central and critical component. Typically, dialogue between leaders and members who execute the strategy is lacking. Bring issues to the surface with openness, frankness, and informality.
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Do we have an enabling culture set for success? This includes data, systems, processes, and teamwork (and that the team members trust each other).
Finance leader and sponsors
As Finance “internal consultants/business partners,” be clear on the expected role and on the role that Finance can play.
Generate sponsorship to accelerate execution
- Identify specific sponsor actions to demonstrate their commitment;
- Develop a communication plan to emphasize and integrate the important issues;
- Identify those directly and indirectly impacted by the change/project;
- Contract with sponsors for specific actions, deliverables, commitments;.
- Identify sponsor activities which will have highest return on investment;
- Understand the knowledge of sponsors on the specific execution project. What do they know? What else do they need to know?
Often, within the execution of a project or change there is conflict. Conflicts are widely attributed to role clarity and decision rights. Discuss these ahead as part of the plan and use RACI on the fly in meetings/calls for decision clarity.
Responsible to do the work (recommendation, decision options, tasks)
When there is alignment and clarity around RACI, conflict is reduced significantly. Do we agree on who is accountable to approve it — usually this is one person not a committee. Whom do we need to consult ahead of time and therefore eliminate “Why didn’t you check with me before?” Who is okay with being informed afterwards about a change, recommendation, or decision? Who is /are responsible to do the actual work on the task or step, or work up the recommendation?
Do all teams/stakeholders know, understand, and agree with the RACI?
Accountability involves and needs alignment on incentives
If part of the team is measured on budget and others measured on time, then we are NOT ALIGNED on how we are rewarding team members and this causes issues and conflicts. By the same token, if we are measuring with different metrics, conflicting views/wants can occur and the team members are NOT REALLY WEARING THE SAME COLOR JERSEY so to speak.
De-railing execution and change resistance
- Low perceived need?
- Unclear expectations?
- Unknown outcomes?
- Negative impact to some? Loss of responsibility, expertise.
- Perceived difficult implementation?
- Low reward and high cost?
- High level of disruption?
- Low involvement?
- Highlights poor past performance, blame?
- Whose decision is it?
The ten issues here (and of course there can be many more) require thinking objectively about the business, technical and human goals of the project/process. Where is the resistance? How do we reduce/mitigate these factors?
So when we think about execution success, what do we need to consider in our plans and discussions fully?
Other de-railers that are possibly “de-railing” the team’s execution
4D: “Define” de-railers
- The business case has not been communicated to and/or understood by those impacted.
- There is no structured approach to project definition.
- “Scope Creep” and/or “Scope Erosion” are continuously altering project definition.
4D: “Determine” de-railers
- No agreement exists on “what” to do or “how” to do it.
- Resources are assigned due to availability and relationships, not credibility, performance and need.
- Believing “this time will be different,” not learning from the past or assuming what worked in another organization will work here.
4D: “Deploy” and “deliver” de-railers
- Multiple priorities diffuse focus and resources.
- Assuming forced compliance can sustain implementation.
- Assuming high levels of commitment by all members.
David Gilman is a Senior Consultant, Kaplan LPD. To learn more, register today for FEI’s 2017 Financial Leadership Summit.
Gilman’s presentation, “Assess and Enhance Your Personal Leadership Style – Expertise Expansion” will focus on talent retention strategies and decision-making capabilities as well as “Driving Organizational Change – Executive Leadership” which will focus on an executive leader’s responsibility at each stage of transition throughout a change initiative.