This is the sentence that will always stay with me. I had dinner in Seoul with a good friend and War Hero (in this story I will simply call him the Colonel). He never said too much about the past, so nor will I reveal too much about him either. However his words “If you hesitate, you die” made a great impression on me.
The Colonel said to me, “Sometimes you really do not know where the enemy is – but you know that if you do not move out of your hiding place you will not make it!”
“We always have to make the best possible plan with the information we have to survive and accomplish our mission”.
He continued: “When we were all clear and aligned about the plan, we executed like hell; we threw everything we had against them – If just one of us had hesitated we would all have died, or been captured.”
One can argue that we should not take those very serious war environments and put them into a business world, however it has been done many times before and I still believe we can learn a lot from the Military leadership and behaviour, bearing in mind that the consequences for the Military are dramatically worse than just red numbers.
Two things I have discovered when mentoring and coaching CEOs and their Executives teams:
1. Often a Vision and a Strategy do exist, and it might even be a very good one; the problem occurs if the next step from the Vision and Strategy is a “56-points action list” from which to execute the strategy.
What will happen then is that everybody leaves the Boardroom and begins working with personal tasks and in their own machine rooms, but simply misses out the COMMON DIRECTION, CLARITY and ALIGNMENT that is so important for keeping speed, simplicity, and impactful decision making. Also there will be a lack of buy-in from the rest of the organisation due to different and often colliding / contradicting leadership communication from the Top Team. It becomes very difficult to get the full potential from the Mid-Management where the resistance against change is usually at its highest; and It makes it extremely difficult to keep the helicopter view and maintain the right perspective after 3-6 months. This will usually hurt the strategy execution, and it creates huge obstacles to fulfilling the Vision.
In order to avoid this, it is critical to translate the Vision into a Strategy, and the Strategy into 5-6 Must Win Battles (MWBs). When the MWBs are defined, we will define the High End Action Points for each MWB, and then we can link the right Action Points (or projects) to the High End Actions and back to the MWBs so that everything is connected from the top-down, and the bottom-up.
In this way, leadership communication becomes much more effective, and we will have achieved clarity in direction and responsibility – we will then have a fully-transparent organisation and the Strategy Execution process is now ready to be accelerated. It is important that the plans are made by the full Executive Team involving Mid-Management, to understand not only the What and How but also the Why; and in doing so gain the full alignment and trust that is so critical for successful Strategy Execution and Sustainable Growth.
2. Staying with the Colonel’s words, “If you hesitate, you die”. I see a lot of international companies across continents and industries giving up on their strategy due to lack of quick results. They begin to HESITATE and do not have the guts to stay with (and execute) the plan. They begin to come up with new strategies and simply get spread out too thin, afraid of making the tough decisions or in general just making decisions.
They build ‘new’ change on ‘old’ change and find themselves in a bad circle where clarity and alignment are non-existent. The strategy becomes the victim where the real enemy was poor execution, poor leadership, wrong mind-set, bad communication and bad Change Management. They lose speed and create complexity instead of simplicity, and the results (and bottom line) are directly affected from this negativity.
However, of course there are times when the Strategy Execution needs to be adjusted and new obstacles need to be dealt with. That is why it is important over time (maybe every quarter) to make a Pit-Stop just like in the Formula 1 racing, where the vision will still be to win, the strategy stays the same, but the vehicle might need new tyres and fresh fuel to be able to finish the race as the Champion.
So before your change your company’s strategy – check who your real enemy is. And when you’ve got it right – Execute like h***!
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