Strategic Execution, pt. 4: Feed the Team

So, I have been ranting on strategic execution for a while now. And I want to take it a step further. Most of what I have been saying could be categorized as intellectual – as in each of the keys involve harnessing your intellectual choices.

But for this blog, I want to engage your emotions. Because if your heart is not attached to this critical key of strategic execution, you shouldn’t even try to leverage these concepts.

Now, if you are reading this sentence, you are agreeing to go down the rabbit hole voluntarily of your own free will and accord. Duly noted…

The fourth critical key of strategic execution is feed the team.

DoughnutsAs you can probably guess by now, I’m not talking about food (though you should never underestimate the power of a box of doughnuts. And really good coffee. Never forget the coffee.). I’m talking about feeding the willpower of the team. Engaging their hearts in a way that transcends the usual marching orders we often give.

Think about this. If you’ve already invested in the previous keys (demanding clarity on the problem being addressed, providing a definition of success for everyone to aim for, and proactively defining your back-up plan), why would you allow all of that effort and time to be wasted because people won’t put their hearts into the execution? That would be like building a car and never filling it with fuel.

Trust me when I say this, if the execution of your strategy is Smiley Facereduced to a stupid checklist series of tasks that have to be fulfilled – and not a mission that is worthy of real sweat, effort, and possibly even some pain – you are not strategic. What you are doing is not strategic. It’s busy-work. At least that’s how the team is going to perceive it. They will tick whatever boxes you are telling them to fill and give you whatever smiley faces they think you want to see, but they won’t be doing it to the best of their abilities. Not in any sustainable way. As soon as you turn your back, things will go back to normal the way they were before your strategy interrupted their lives.

You have to feed their emotional appetites. You have to engage them. It’s the only way to make certain that the responsibility for execution is shared (unless you actually like doing everything yourself).

And here is where I have to pause and clarify something. The phrase “employee engagement” is a popular one, but I am amazed at how wildly mutated different the definition can be from person to person. My definition of engagement means people believe that what they are doing is the right thing for them and their company/organization. It’s not just a shared, intellectual belief. It’s an emotional commitment. It certainly involves intellectual reason, but it doesn’t rely on it.

Think of it this way. Sometimes (maybe even often times) the strategy can be so complex that only the most senior leaders actually understand the whole thing. You don’t want to have to rely on everyone intellectually grasping every jot and tittle of the strategy. But you do want them to believe in it. So when I say engagement, I am talking about the kind of emotional connection that execution can genuinely anchor itself with. It is way beyond the normal head-nodding that leaders usually shoot for (as in, “Do you understand what I am saying? Nod your heads “yes” so that I can tell myself that you are fully onboard – even though you are going to forget this entire conversation ever happened as soon as I turn my back.).

Got it? Alright. Let’s continue.

This kind of engagement requires two things: empowerment and motivation. I don’t have the space to explain everything that is connected to these concepts, so let me just provide the highlights.

First, let’s deal with motivation and get it out of the way.

I do not believe that you can truly motivate someone else. Motivation comes from within. So, as a leader, my job is to find what is de-motivating you. I need to identify and eliminate the things in the environment that are making execution too hard for the team. This is a MAJOR part of being a strategic leader. Go read more about this on my Facebook rant post here (and you might as well “like” the page while you are there because I post random stuff on that page more often than I blog). The bottom line is simple: If I don’t address the external de-motivators in the environment, you WILL run out of whatever emotional fuel you possess internally. It’s guaranteed.

The other half of this concept is empowerment. Empowering my team is about ensuring that the right behaviors are happening during execution. Again, we are back to the emotions, because behaviors are emotional. We choose our behaviors, consciously or not (anybody ever try to quit smoking/lose weight/increase your fitness level? Increase the emotional drive and you get decidedly more powerful change; turn off the emotions and you get nothing). This selection is driven by what feels good/right. If you are asking your team to do something that doesn’t initially feel good or right, you have to empower them to figure it out on their own. To change the situation. To make the feelings of good and right surface properly because each team member has been given the authority and has been equipped to shape the situation in a way that is aligned with both what is good for the organization AND what is good for them personally.

QuestionsBut there’s one more ingredient to empowerment that I want to add. Consider it my off-the-wall observation. True empowerment, the kind that takes on a life of its own, must demand learning. In other words, the people who are being empowered MUST also be expected to learn. They must use the authority and whatever they have been equipped with in a way that forces them to expand their behavior and become more proficient.

Think of it this way: empowerment must have an ROI. If you are going to give people the authority and people/time/energy/resources to make mistakes so that they can execute the strategy (and you must because otherwise you haven’t empowered anything), you need to get something back. The people who you have just empowered need to come back from the experience smarter, wiser, and more proficient than they were before. So that they can take on more responsibility, tackle harder strategies, and achieve greater successes. I would go so far as to say that if you don’t get smarter/wiser/more proficient people, you didn’t empower them. You only gave them enough to work without your supervision. You turned the opportunity for engaging your team into a mini, on-the-job vacation, when you could have been involved stretching people, growing talent, and increasing your bench-strength for executing in the future. And looking for de-motivators.

And you have to be emotional about it. Authentic. Or as my friend, Dan Waldschmidt, likes to say – human. Trying to connect with other people’s emotions without bringing your own emotions to the party is, frankly, pathetic. I am not saying that you have to be some sort of emotional display of fireworks. I am saying you have to tap into whatever emotions that are telling you that executing this strategy is good and right… if you want other people to be engaged.

This is real engagement. This is feeding your team. This is how you strategically execute. This is how you lead.

I mua. Onward and upward.

P.S. If you are a subscriber to my blog, you will have noticed that production has dropped waaaaaay down. This is because I am up to my eyeballs in cool things/work. And the thing that I am most excited with right now is a new book that I writing with my partner-in-crime, Dr. Brian Lambert. So, please be patient with me. And know that when we are done, you will get a free copy of the book. Yep. I just said that publicly.

By Tim Ohai

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