Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • May 28, 2021
  • minute read

How to Make Things Happen 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

It's a common scenario: a powerful, driven, clever leader drives their new organization through the early stages of growth -  Early Struggle and  Fun - with laser-like focus and a ruthless dedication to effective execution. 

The organization succeeds and grows, until one day the leadership team (for by now the organization is led by a team,  not just by an individual) discovers it has seemingly lost the ability to execute.

During this frustrating stage of development – the stage we call Whitewater – it often feels to leaders that they have simply lost the ability to make things happen:

We make great decisions, but nothing ever gets done.

We’re talking about the same issues today that we were talking about six months ago, why can’t we get this stuff fixed?

In reality of course, the leadership team haven’t suddenly become stupid. What’s happened is that the complexity that ineluctably accompanies growth has made the decision-making process less straightforward than it was in earlier, simpler times.

So if you feel that you’re having trouble making things happen - that you can still make decisions, but they never seem to get implemented - try these three steps to unblock the flow:

1. Have a separate Implementation meeting.

Executive teams who struggle with execution rarely do so because they have problems making good decisions. Their problem is most often that they confuse making the decision with actually implementing it.

For these Visionary teams, coming up with a creative solution to a problem feels like 90 percent (or more) of the work has been done.

Discussion around implementation – those gnarly, granular, specific actions needed to translate their whizzo idea into reality – get short shrift, squeezed into the last 10 or 15 minutes of a lengthy brainstorming session.

Executive teams who struggle with execution rarely do so because they have problems making good decisions. Their problem is most often that they confuse making the decision with actually implementing it. - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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The result? A fragile, brittle implementation plan, short on detail and with little genuine buy-in.

The answer? Split apart the decision-making and implementation discussions.

Use a brainstorming session first, to identify the needed solution(s)– i.e. make the initial decisions, and then schedule a second, separate implementation session, solely devoted to implementing those decisions.

Here’s a hint: the two sessions needn’t comprise the same people.

In fact, to ensure detailed, thorough implementation, you might want to exclude the big-picture, broad-brush, highly creative Visionaries who will have done such sterling work in the brainstorming session.

They’ll grow antsy with the implementation meeting’s attention to detail in any case, and may well hijack it out of boredom. Instead, add some Operators – people with a proclivity to action – and Processors, who are good at implementing needed systems and processes, to the mix.

You’ll end up with a much more practical, implementable plan as a result.

2. Take initial steps immediately.

Only action ensures action. If you want to implement more, then start implementing. The sooner the better.

Once you’ve split apart the decision-making and implementation processes into two sessions, get into the simple habit of executing the first implementation steps during the implementation meeting.

Don’t let that meeting just be a talking shop, even if it does produce a good plan. Send the first memo; order the first batch of raw materials; draft the recruitment ad – whatever the first do-able action step is.

(Of course, this assumes your implementation team either has, or can get, the authority to take initial steps directly. If your organization has a systemic issue with implementation, and you can’t get the necessary authority, then you’ve just found the root cause of the problem – overly centralized decision-making. You'll need to fix that first.)

3. Add accountability to delegated actions.

I’m sure you’ve seen (maybe even produced) those impressive documents that emerge from team meetings listing a swathe of action points down the left side, and columns to the right showing who is responsible for each point, and the date by which each will be completed.

Clearly delegated, time-based milestones. What can go wrong with the implementation of such a well-planned decision?

One thing: Lack of accountability.

Putting a name (and even a date) beside an action point doesn’t guarantee it will get done – particularly if there is no consequence to non-implementation.

To fix this, you need to add two more columns to your action checklist: What the accountability process is (I.e. to whom, when and how the completion or non-completion of the task will be reported), and secondly, what the consequences of non-completion are.

Don’t be afraid to combine the two and have fun with it. The prospect of a having to wear the failure hat in the next team  meeting can be a powerful accountability tool 🙂

What about you? Which of these three steps would most help you and your team return to effective execution?

Let me know in the comments below!

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