Monday, July 29, 2013

Executing Strategy

What corporate leaders can learn from the local high school band

Joni Newkirk – CEO, Integrated Insight

Much has been written about the propensity of business strategies to fail in execution.  In The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution, the authors relied on an extensive survey of business executives and employees to find that three in five consider their company weak at execution.  The Strategy Execution Survey conducted by the AMA, primarily of Human Resources professionals, found 62% rating their company’s ability to execute as mediocre or worse.  Insights vary, but many agree that poor communication and lack of clarity and alignment are often contributing factors.  That’s why business leaders could benefit by taking a page from the high school band playbook.

Many band directors are in the throes of planning their fall football halftime program.  All of them know even the best program, with the greatest music and the most artistic effects, will fall flat if executed poorly.  One wrong turn by a trumpeter or a missed note by a tuba player and you’ll hear the collectively sigh from the stands.  Perfection means every member of the band performs flawlessly, not just some. 

Consider the steps they take -
  • It goes without saying that everyone will be working off the same sheet of music.  Not last year’s program for some or a favored songbook for others.  And everyone is expected to play the entire song – not just the parts they like.
  • The song sheet isn’t just tossed over the fence a few minutes before halftime.  Before they ever hit the field for a practice run, the band will have a chance to learn the music and ask clarifying questions.  Every musician will know their notes, their part of the performance.
  • Once on the field for practice, every member of the band is given their exact positions and movements for whatever formation has been designed.  No guessing where they are supposed to be and when.  The formation only works one way.
  • Prior to their first performance, the band will have practiced the same song and the same formation for weeks on end.  A relentless pursuit of perfection to avoid that one misstep or one missed note during their grand debut.
  • And there is unquestionably one and only one conductor on the field.  All eyes are focused on the same leader, waiting for the signal to start. 
Painful, yes, but rewarding as well when weeks of hard work pay off with a beautiful performance. Great strategies are just ideas on paper; execution makes them real. The band director knows what few business leaders care to acknowledge – the hard work is in execution and that is where they have the greatest chance to fail. They know it takes time to bring a disparate group together to perform seamlessly as one, to nurture newbies and encourage seasoned players that change is good.

Who is your conductor?  And is everyone playing their song?

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