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How can I help my team get better at execution?

Three surprising reasons you’re not getting enough done

As we approach the end of 2022, you may look back and wonder …

Why didn’t we get more done this year?

If so, you’re not alone. Research from the Bridges Consultancy shows that about one out of every two strategy implementations fails.

Execution is hard, full stop.

But there are a few common pitfalls that keep leaders and their teams from getting things done.

If you make these mistakes, you’ll find even your best strategies fall short. And it’s not because they weren’t great ideas. It’s because they didn’t get implemented well.

If you want to be the kind of leader who avoids these pitfalls and gets more done, then keep reading. I’m sharing three common reasons teams struggle with execution – and what you, as a leader, can do to fix them.

You’re telling the vision, not selling it.

Too often, leaders assume that telling their team the big-picture goal is enough to get people on board with it.

But that’s just not reality.

People won’t run up a hill just because you tell them to.

If you want your team to execute a strategy, you’ve got to sell it. Your job, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, is this:

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he/she wants to do it.”

That means you need to help your team understand how their tasks impact the larger strategy.

At Yum! Brands, I always asked people, “What are you doing in your piece of Yum! to help us become the defining global company that feeds the world?”

People are much more likely to buy into the strategy – and do their part executing it – when you help them understand their unique role in it

Tell them why their tasks matter, too. Don’t assume they already know.

Lauren Hobart, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, calls this “commander’s intent.”

“You can lay out a bunch of different mandates or tasks that people have to do,” Lauren explained in our conversation on How Leaders Lead. “Or you can say, I want you to do ABC, but the reason I'm telling you to do ABC is because of [this] goal we're trying to achieve.”

This idea of commander’s intent also helps your team keep executing even when circumstances change. Lauren explains, “A, B and C may not work out exactly the way we planned. But if they know what the vision is, the smart people on the ground can adapt.”

It’s your job to connect the dots for your team. Show them how and why their tasks matter, and your team will be more motivated to actually execute them.

You haven’t fully defined the problem.

When I think about execution, I’m instantly reminded of a fantastic conversation I had with Tony Xu, the CEO of DoorDash.

He believes most companies struggle to execute because they haven’t properly defined the problems they’re trying to solve.

“Sometimes it’s hard to prioritize,” he said, “because you don’t actually have enough clarity on the true root cause of something.”

The anecdotes and symptoms that hit your desk often aren’t the root cause of whatever problems you need to fix.

Tony says, “You have to keep going, lower and lower and lower, to really uncover what you’re looking for.”

At DoorDash, they do this by writing down what they think the problem is. Then they peel that back more and look for a deeper problem. They write that down, and try the process again until they feel they’ve really gotten to the bottom of an issue.

That extra work in clarifying the problem helps them solve that problem more efficiently.

If you’re working hard and still not executing your strategies, this may be why. All that effort isn’t being applied to the right issues.

Take the time to clarify the problem you’re facing, and you’ll find the work you do to solve it is much more efficient.

You’re prioritizing the wrong tasks.

If you and your team aren’t executing well, you may need to reprioritize the work you’re doing.

What are the most important things you need to put process and discipline around to make sure your business performs?

It sounds simple, but so many people spend their time on tasks that don’t move the business forward.

When I was the CEO of Yum! Brands, I pinpointed the three things I could do that would have the biggest impact on our company.

Number one, I wanted to focus on people capability.

Number two, I wanted to understand everything I could about what our customers were looking for and ensure we were making them happy.

And number three, as the CEO, I was the key person to build strong relationships with our investment community.

I literally organized my calendar around those three things.

And I got ruthless about deprioritizing tasks and meetings that didn’t serve those big goals.

What are those three key functions for you? What about the people on your team?

If everyone in your organization focuses on the tasks that support their key functions, you won’t just accomplish more things. You’ll accomplish more of the right things.

Big goals, clever ideas, and smart strategies are all important to your success.

But actually executing those things is the mark of a great leader and a dialed-in team.

It’s one of the hardest parts of leadership – and the common execution mistakes I mention here are only a few of the reasons teams fall short.

But they’re big ones, and they’re often the ones most in your control as a leader.

Take an honest look at how these pitfalls may have come up this year. Then, get excited … because imagine how much MORE you’ll accomplish once you fix them!

November 29, 2022