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Strategy Is Important. But It’s Not Enough. (Part Two)

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Jan G. van der Hoop, President of HiringSmart™ — our go-to partner for help on how to hire more effectively, will be contributing to this blog on Fridays.  You can reach him directly at 905-338-7961 or

In last Friday’s post I made the argument that “Culture trumps Strategy”, day in and day out.  This week, I will finish my thoughts on the issue.

There are two levers available to a business owner, CEO or senior line manager as it relates to building executional excellence:

1. Right person, right job
It should go without saying, but unfortunately most organizations have done a dismal job of productively matching talent with opportunity. That much is evident in the statistics that surround us – lower than ever levels of engagement, and higher than ever levels of stress, conflict and turnover at work.

In order to win at the execution game, organizations have no choice but to start by aligning people correctly against the work that’s there to be done. Setting them up to work from their strengths and innate talents, working alongside others who are committed to the same high standards of performance.

And, at the same time, managers need to be managers of people first, and doers of tasks second. Too many are in the job for altogether the wrong reasons. Managers’ most important task is to give their people the time, the tools and the support they need in order to feel adequately equipped to perform. They need to set high standards, communicate clearly, be authentic and transparent leaders, and be willing to hold themselves – and those around them – accountable for superior results.

2. Sound management practices and leadership alchemy
According to Kaplan and Norton in The Balanced Scorecard, 95% of people don’t know what their job is. That doesn’t mean they are lazy or stupid, only that we’ve done a lousy job of aligning their activities around shared objectives and well-understood priorities.

How would your customer-facing employees articulate your vision and mission? How much do they understand about your strategic imperatives, the three, four or five overarching priorities they need to be focused on and working towards? Never mind alignment – in most organizations, those at the front line just shrug when asked. Whether it’s because they don’t know or because they don’t care is immaterial; the root cause is usually the same.

Clear line of sight is critical to executional success. Once the strategic plan is complete and has been given the green light, it needs to be broken down into manageable chunks and communicated in a cascading manner seamlessly down through successive layers and across functions. All employees at every level and in every function should have their activities and goals focused on the same set of imperatives with targets that roll up and roll down seamlessly in such a manner that the sum of the parts meets or exceeds the corporate objective.

Cascading objectives are simple in design. Regular, effective two-way communication is critical to making it work.

Strategy, regardless how brilliant, is nothing more than a good idea if the organization can’t deliver on it. You can grow executional excellence, but it starts with an unrelenting commitment to fit first, and to installing a sound management process.

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Don Rheem’s presentation on Employee Engagement gets underneath the real “whys” on the behavior of discretionary effort. I found his examples to be relative and understandable. I see how our leaders are making better connections with the hearts of our people, so everyone better understands the goals of the enterprise.

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