On Strategy and Execution ...


There is a saying "A goal without a plan is just a wish" and it is so very true.  Sometimes we are so anxious to start the execution, excited to start a sprint towards the finish that we forget about the planning part.  We have all done it - we think we have a target, an end state, and we start to move towards it - then, at some point, you realise that you can't actually define what "it" is anymore ... so you wouldn't even know it if you got there.

First off, we need to realise that there is no end state, there is no finish line - only a pass-through into something bigger.  What we are actually shooting for is a marker on a much longer journey.  For example: in sports, an individual may wish to play professionally.  First, they must develop enough basic skill to qualify for a team - or find a team that will invest in training the individual to a certain level.  Next, that individual will need to improve their skills and develop their body to compete in increasingly skilled and competitive leagues until they reach professional level.  Once there, they must execute in each of the individual plays that make up a game.  But it doesn't end there ... each season is a series of games.  Each team's legacy is a series of seasons ... and on and on ...

Your marker, your finish line is a result of luck, upbringing, leveraging your own natural talent and constantly making the decision whether you are content being a big fish in a small pond or if you can be happy and comfortable a a smaller fish in a bigger pond.  There is no wrong answer - only the judgement of others because your decision isn't the one that they would make.  But they're not you - they don't share your thoughts, feelings, history, chemistry or experiences, so their judgement of you is their issue to deal with, not yours. Be ok with that idea - have self-confidence.

But how do you move from marker to marker? First off, you can't do it alone.  As glorious as the human imagination is, you can only conceive of the things you've observed and experienced and innovate through the blending of different ideas into something new (imagination).  For example, you cannot conceive of a career as a golfer without the knowledge of golf and the concept of career.  And you can't understand golf without the knowledge of the concept of a stick, a ball and some physics (and so on).  That knowledge comes from sharing experiences with others and observations that translate into wisdom. Also, you cannot reach a marker without communicating and agreeing on the expectations and the outcomes that are a success.

For example, I recently changed jobs and took on a team with several projects that were years overdue, the team was full of conflict and no one really knew what anyone else was doing or how their own work contributed to success - because no one could explain what success looked like.  In order to make change I took 3 significant actions:

First, remove the culture of blame.  Everyone can understand that history cannot be changed, however it can be perceived differently, and debated infinitely.  For example, I was recently discussing a project scope and timeline with a client who believed we had "wasted weeks" that put the project at risk.  I explained to them all the actions we had taken in that time frame, and that, in my view, we had progressed as fast as we were capable.  They took the position that they were going to escalate their perspective to their supervisor who would then - without having participated in the experience - would share that view with my supervisor which would cause me to turn my attention towards collecting "evidence" and constructing a narrative that supported my position.  In essence, instead of focusing on the project tasks and direction with the team, I now had to focus my attention on conflict resolution (as did my supervisor and others).  Also, this conflict could lead to a strained working relationship and subconscious passive-aggressive behaviours that further threaten the outcomes.

Conversely, by aligning themselves with my interpretation of events and reporting to their supervisor that the team is working as hard and fast as they can, that client would become a trusted ally, a positive working relationship would evolve and most likely lead to better results.  This applies as much to team working relationships as it does to client relationships.

Second, remove the concepts of privacy and ownership from the work (not from the individual - that's different).  In modern terms this simply meant stopping the email, text and private conversation culture that was prevalent in that environment.  To be clear, I did not stop people from talking one-on-one, but I encouraged them to document the assumptions and the outcomes of every conversation in a public space.

Third, discuss and reach a consensus on the first marker, and document it.  Identify the people responsible and accountable and ensure they understand their role.  Consider all the steps, identify the stakeholder and hurdles, and publish your plan (see step 2).  Look for the hidden systems that can derail the plan and navigate them skilfully.  Invite people into the conversation and allow for feedback and make adjustments accordingly.  Remove the ego.  Be ok with new and emerging information. Be ok with course correction. Be ok with the idea that the first marker is not an "end-state" and allow for a margin of error with the knowledge that errors and omissions may happen because nothing is ever "perfect" and nothing can ever be "perfect". Everything evolves. Understand that a goal is simply the best we can get, with the information we have.  This means setting very short term objectives to ensure that the result reflects the wants and needs and problems of the present and not of some distant past that no longer exists other than as an individual interpretation of a faded memory.

These actions have led to the resolution of most of the conflicts, 2 significant releases with 3 more on the verge and positive professional recognition for me and my team.  All of these feed on themselves, create a safe and productive environment and unlock the potential for greater success.

Be kind to yourself and each other ...

#strategy #execution #changemanagement #conflictmanagement


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