Why Your Team Can’t Execute & How to Fix It

For twelve years I’ve taught a three-day Strategy Summit in the 4th quarter to help clients prepare for the upcoming year. The format is simple:

  • The first day covers how to create a compelling vision that unites and inspires the team for the upcoming year.

  • Day two covers strategies to reach the vision. I present dozens of sample strategies and teach implementation principles to ensure they succeed.

  • On the final day I teach tactical execution; how to convert the strategies into results.

Since a significant number of attendees return each year with their leadership teams to again plan the upcoming year, they are comfortable sharing with each other their biggest challenge with the process: “We would start the year with a forecast people were excited about, and the strategy was sound. We knew what we needed to do; we simply didn’t know how to do it—and when we did do the right things we rarely did so consistently. Overall, we did a poor job of executing.”

Here are twelve reasons your managers, like so many we’ve trained to do better over the years, can’t execute as effectively or consistently as they’d like. Face reality about which may have prevented you and your team from achieving bolder goals and make the adjustments necessary to take execution disciplines in your dealership to a far higher level.

  1. Front line employees aren’t clear about the goals they’re supposed to execute. Franklin- Covey research shows that only 15% of employees could name even one of an organization’s three top goals. How can one execute and move successfully towards goals they’re unclear about?

  2. Team members aren’t passionate about the goals, leaving roughly half going through the motions. Why would anyone give their all for goals they’re indifferent towards?

  3. A staggering 81% of people surveyed admitted they were not regularly held accountable for progress on organizational goals. Since people do what they’re held accountable for, failing to apply consequences for poor performance makes effective or consistent execution unlikely.

  4. Leaders fail to create a culture that changes the behaviors necessary in order to bring about effective execution. Bain and Company reports that an estimated 65% of initiatives require significant behavioral change on the part of front-line employees—something that managers often fail to consider or plan for in advance.

  5. When a team does set clear goals, they tend to set too many, bringing about a Law of Diminishing Returns: the more goals you have the fewer you’ll reach because you haven’t the focus or resources to pursue any with excellence.

  6. Their day job gets in the way. The daily fray, absolutely necessary for keeping an organization’s engine moving, crowds out the focus necessary to execute new initiatives. Thus, flavors of the month come and go like the changing seasons.

  7. Managers focus too heavily on lag measures (the numbers) rather than the lead measures (the daily behaviors) necessary to achieve the lag measures. By confusing the scoreboard for the game, these leaders typically react to outcomes rather than proactively execute right strategies to create the desired outcomes.

  8. Team members are not engaged in the “what to do and how to do it” aspect of execution. While it’s essential that leaders create clarity by establishing a handful of essential goals—the ultimate few—on a top-down basis, it’s just as important that team members in the middle and at the front line help create their own goals, strategies and tactics to support the objectives created from the top. High levels of execution are never reached when strategy is devised solely by senior leaders and then pushed down the ranks. The high level of commitment and engagement necessary for successful execution requires that strategies and commitments to execute them evolve from the bottom-up. While the leaders may veto any strategies not effectively supporting key organizational goals, they must not dictate them.

  9. Leaders mistake opportunity for obligation and never learn to say no to good, or even great, ideas that detract from executing towards the best initiatives. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple wisely observed: “We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose. The table you’re sitting on today, you could probably put every product on that Apple makes, yet Apple’s revenue in 2013 was $171 billion.” The late Steve Jobs taught Cook well and was famous for saying, “I’m as proud of the things we don’t do as those we do.”

  10. Leaders errantly choose their ultimate few goals by asking, “What’s most important?” rather than asking, “If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?” This question changes the way you think and lets you clearly identify the focus that would make all the difference when executing.

  11. After choosing key goals leaders fight too many battles and on too many fronts to win the war. They wrongly ask, “How many things will help us win this war?” instead of the far more effective question: “What are the fewest battles necessary to win this war?” With fewer key battles to fight, a team’s focus is narrowed, resulting in faster and more effective execution.  

  12. There isn’t an “X to Y by when” element to the goal. In other words, a desired outcome isn’t defined clearly enough, nor is it time-based resulting in scattered focus, lethargic execution and no accountability for failure.

Author Sean Covey explains how in 1958 NASA had eight primary goals that guided the space agency; none of which were particularly specific or had deadlines. Russia was beating the pants off the U.S space program at the time by sending the first rockets and men into space, while NASA was still exploding rockets on launching pads. In 1961 President Kennedy outlined ONE goal that was specific, bold and time-based; it energized and focused not only NASA, but the entire country: “We will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.”  The resulting success, ahead of schedule, leap-frogged America to the forefront of a space program it still dominates five decades later. There may be no greater single example in the modern age of how to productively set up a bold vision and successfully execute it than this.  Taking your dealership to its fullest potential requires that you do likewise.  

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Comment by Mark Dubis on March 19, 2014 at 12:24pm

Dave thanks for sharing some great advice. Like you shared, I feel one of the overwhelming challenges for managers is having to manage too many projects and activities that don't contribute much to the bottom line.  A great example is pushing a social media agenda when you still have high turnover with staff.  You can't build customer loyalty with new staff members every few months.  Too often dealers try to put the roof on the building before the foundation is poured.

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