One big warning sign that your team won’t execute



31 - old Beijing brick wall

Lessons from a high school musical

I learned a big lesson about business execution during rehearsals for my high school musical.

An unlikely take-away for sure, but I’ve always been interested in what makes groups of people able to get things done, and for me I got a big aha on the stage of my high school production of George M. Cohen. Give my regards to Broadway…

Anyway, at the first day of rehearsal, because my character was in Act I, Scene I, I was so excited to be up on the stage at the very beginning of the first rehearsal.

But much to my dismay, in the first moments of the first rehearsal, the director jumped to Act II scene 7, as the very first thing we rehearsed.

The big production number

Act II, scene 7 was the biggest production number. It involved the whole cast learning choreography, lyrics, harmonies and dancing.

In those first moments I thought it was very strange to start in the middle, but then I realized that my opening scene was simply a conversation between 2 people, that could be probably be rehearsed for the first time 10 minutes before the curtain went up on opening night… or never… because it wasn’t difficult or time consuming to get right.

But on the other hand, the big production number would require weeks of learning and practice for everyone.

Backward vs. Forward Planning

The director was doing what I’ll call backward vs. forward planning.

With a goal of delivering a final performance (and not being thoroughly embarrassed by it!) he looked specifically at the size and shape of all the work that needed to be done…and the first thing he did was to arrange the biggest chunks of work out over a timeline that would ensure we could get them all done. He was doing effective Backward Planning.

Backward Planning

Backward Planning is starting with the end in mind and then committing to some targets along the way.

Every business strategy has its equivalent of “the big production number” — the thing that will take a lot of people a lot of time to do in a choreographed way.

With backward planning, you could say for example:

If we want a $40M run rate revenue coming through a new OEM channel by the end of the year, what are the big chunks of work we need to do and when do we need to start them?

Even if you don’t know up front what all the things you need to do are, you can still put some stakes in the ground in terms of intermediate outcomes.

If we meet that goal one year from now, what needs to be true 9 months from now? What will we see that is in place at that time?

Then you can start to see what you need to change, fix, or invent to make that happen?

Putting the stakes in the ground that define mid-point outcomes is what helps you define the work that needs to be done.

Well… 9 months from now we need to have 8 partners selected and joint business plans in place that demonstrate they will each do an average of $5M next year.

…That means that 6 months from now, we need to have the general program in place, and have agreements in place with our 8 OEM vendors.

…That means that 3 months from now we need to have reached out to 15 vendors with a marketing plan.

…That means that right now we need to assign resources to do the marketing plan, and select or recruit our internal partners for these OEM’s, and create list of 25 targets.

Where business teams go astray

In many situations when I am sitting in a conference room with an executive team, they will be stuck on forward planning instead of backward planning.

If I say, “OK, if you want a $40M run rate of OEM revenue entering next year, what will need to be true 9 months from now?”

Their answer is, “We need to create a plan.” or “Jeff is working on a plan”.

I’ll say, “OK, but let’s put some stakes in the ground to guide the plan to make sure that we can actually execute it.”

“We can’t do that until we have a plan”.

But let’s think about what would be true 3 months before this was finished. What would we see? What would be in place?

“We can’t do that until we have a plan. Jeff is working on a plan”.

A major red flag that your team won’t execute, is if the only thing they will commit to is “working on a plan”.

Planning vs. Execution

While I admit that a plan is necessary, this idea of “We can’t put any stakes in the ground before we have a plan” is dangerous, and often fatal to effective, on-time execution.

What typically happens is that someone works on a plan for a few weeks. But then once the plan is presented, the rest of the team has lost the appetite for it.

And it’s often a forward plan that doesn’t account for the time it will take to do the biggest chunks of work.

The forward plan will say something like, First we need to identify partners who meet these requirements, then we need to develop partnerships, then we need to develop marketing and business plans, and so on…

Stakes in the ground create momentum and accountability

In this example, people will say, “But since we don’t have a plan, we don’t know how many parters or how much revenue each parter can do, or what we’ll need to do to secure them as partners — we need to do a plan first.”

The issue is that without putting stakes in the ground up front, and working backwards from the end goal, your forward plan won’t create enough momentum or accountability.

People will just start marching forward in a vague way — or they will hang around waiting for more information.

And you miss the opportunity to start the big chunks of work early.

In this OEM example for instance, even without a finished forward plan, with effective backwards planning, you could put in place milestones that drive action.

The marketing department could start working on a killer partner package well in advance of knowing exactly how many partners you will have. You could start re-working your IT systems to enable OEM deals. Your product development organization could start tuning the product to make it more configurable.

You don’t need to have a complete forward plan to be able to put stakes in the ground and to commit to some of the big chunks of work that you will need to start before you have all the answers.

Stakes in the ground do not have to be accurate

Putting the stakes in the ground for 8 partners lets you ensure that you will have more than zero partners on board by a specific time, and that you will do all the things in time that you need to do to get ready and support more than zero partners.

If you find out 6 months in that you really need 10 partners or 4 partners instead of 8 partners that’s fine — You’ve changed the lyrics, but you’ve already learned and rehearsed the dance steps.

Committing is way scarier than planning

It’s scary to put stakes in the ground because it becomes very obvious at that point that you are committing to do something specific.

And because you have put the stake in the ground with what feels like not enough study or planning, it might feel like you are committing to something you don’t know how to do. But that’s OK.

It’s the willingness to put concrete milestones in your backwards plan that initiates forward movement and enables the ability to execute.

Without concrete targets, you can study and study and craft a what seems like a perfect plan, but you run the risk of embarking on your forward plan only to realize that to execute on time, you would have needed to start the big elements of the program 6-9 months ago.

…You’ve run out of time to rehearse the big production number.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on the Azzarello Group Facebook page.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Long term goals are hard for humans


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The Monday MOVE Idea

Each Monday until the launch of my upcoming book MOVE, I’ll be sharing an important idea from the book. This week: Long Term Goals are Hard for Humans

Think of your strategy like your New Years resolution

Oh, wait…that’s the problem!

The reason we break so many New Years resolutions is that as humans, we are easily excited about the end result, but the long and steady process to get there – not so much. The same thing happens with our business strategies.

We can all more easily deal with important things that take a short time.

But keeping progress going on an initiative or transformation that spans months or years is really hard for any human (let alone a whole organization full of them) because you can’t see or deal with the whole thing right now.

Build a timeline by working backwards

Think about a new way to start your new initiative (or your new year’s resolution). Instead of progressing it from the beginning, work backwards from the end — and define what you need to do at each point along the way.

Human nature: When you get a task that will take a year, on any Monday early in the process, you kind of still have a year. If you don’t start it for a month, you still have most of the year.

The common problem is that without this timeline process, people will be nodding their heads and thinking,

“Yeah, that’s important, but we have a year to get it done, so I don’t need to worry about it for a while.”

But this thinking can repeat over and over again. Suddenly you are 10 months in and still have 12 months of work left to do!

Create clarity, motivation and urgency

But if instead you define the whole timeline up front by working backwards from the end goal, people can’t simply just go back to work and feel like they have a year to make it come true.

With a clear and concrete timeline in place, instead of the team thinking they have plenty of time on a 12 month goal, they realize that they are already late on a 1 month goal!

When you create a timeline of specific concrete, see-able checkpoints, strategic progress, and a sense of urgency are ensured because you have clearly mapped it all out and put it on a timeline.

Read MOVE

I’m really excited to share the important ideas, and all the tools I put in my upcoming book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in the organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

MOVE will be available in February, but you can download a free preview now or pre-order your copy now.
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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Who else would like to see this?

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Ruthless Priorities and Effectiveness



This month’s Professional Development webinar was on the topic of Ruthless Priorities and Effectivnessk.

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If you missed it you can download the recording.

Members of my FORWARD program for Professional Development can download this webinar for free.
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Get more important stuff done and feel more sane!

This is a useful webinar to download if you:

  • Have an unrealistic workload and need a better way to deal with it
  • Need to find a way to choose the right work when everything is a top priority
  • Have trouble saying NO and tend to try do everything that is asked
  • Need to push back on your boss, but still build your credibility
  • Not feel like you are letting others down when you focus on important work

Here is what we talked about:

Ruthless Priorities

No one is helping you: Defining and sticking to Ruthless Priorities is one of the most important and hardest things we are asked to do as business leaders. It also sets the most successful business leaders apart. But it’s not easy because not only will no one help you do this, most people will fight you, and want you to keep doing everything.

What’s really most important? We talked about how to choose what is truly most important (compared to everything that is important), and how to negotiate a doable workload with your boss and your peers.

Credibility

It’s important to maintain, if to not actually build, your credibility by the work you choose to do and finish. Getting a reputation for getting important things done builds your credibility.

I shared techniques for having the right conversations with your boss and peers to build your credibility and achieve a realistic workload — and actually finish the most important things — And feel more sane in the process.

How to Say NO to your Boss (and be OK):

When you feel like you can’t get everything done that your boss is asking, it feels scary and you might feel guilty, or at risk. We talked about how to turn this around and use Ruthless Priorities to work with your boss on defining and staging the most important work to be done first, so you come out strong and focused.

Trying to do everything and failing is not success. Getting the most important stuff done is success.

Communicating:

It’s not just your boss that wants you do stuff. Lot’s of other people make demands on your time too. The guilt comes in when you feel like you are letting people down. We covered techniques for pushing back, but eliminating the let-down.

It’s important to never just drop requests in silence. Prepare a communication plan to describe your priorities and why they matter. Keeping a list of all requests, with noted Ruthless Priorities vs. everything else is a wonderful communication tool to build credibility too.

Achieve a Realistic Workload

It’s important to examine your workload and do an assessment of what is realistic. You’ll never get it all done, so you need a plan for dealing with the work and eliminating the worry.

I shared techniques and also included worksheets and templates in this webinar to prepare conversations and negotiations about your Ruthless Priorities that will build your credibly and cause people to back off and give you some breathing room.

Saying yes to everything, and trying to do everything is actually a lazier way of working than setting Ruthless Priorities and sticking to them.

It’s hard to do the strategic thinking, negotiating, communicating — and to have the guts to set and stick to Ruthless Priorities. That’s why it sets the strongest leaders apart.

Want some help?

To get some help with this and learn the specific ideas and techniques that we talked about, download the webinar: Ruthless Priorities and Effectiveness, now.

Members: Download the webinar for free.
Non Members: You can purchase this individual webinar or podcast (links below).

There are some other really useful webinars in the Member Library related to this topic.

Members get these additional webinars for free:

So if you are not yet a member, you might as well join and get them all for free!

Let me be your mentor

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Members of the Azzarello Group FORWARD program basically get me as their mentor.

Every month you get new insights and tools in the form of these webinars, as well as the chance to call into a monthly members-only coaching hour where you can get direct personal coaching from me.

People tell me that membership gives them a totally new way of thinking about their career, getting promotions, solving difficult problems with bosses, peers, employees, and other annoying people, communicating better, being more influential, becoming a stronger leader, and enjoying their work more. I love to hear this, and I love to help!

If you join now, you’ll not only get this webinar, but all the other webinars in the Member Library.

AND you’ll get the opportunity to participate in monthly Coaching Hour conference calls with me.
Check out what we talk about.

AND as a member you’ll get to download your copy of the Career Year of action Guide (a $30 value) for free.

Membership to my FORWARD program for professional development is a great resource (and a steal at $179 for a whole year) to help you advance your career.

Join Now
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AT CHECKOUT TO SAVE $30 ON YOUR MEMBERSHIP

Other Options:

Purchase just this webinar ($19.99)

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ABOUT PATTY:

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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

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2 reasons your team is not executing


2 reasons

In my work with organizations to help them put their Strategy into Action, I find very often that many teams have trouble executing for a couple of fundamental reasons.

Alignment is not enough

Let’s assume your team is 100% aligned.

Alignment is a first important step. And getting a team truly aligned is no small feat. But even when I encounter a team that is very aligned on the strategy, and also…they get along, and they are not dysfunctional…

I still find that the group can get stuck talking about what is so critically important to accomplish, rather than accomplishing it.

Do you have an initiative that you have been talking about for a year or more but have not made material progress on? If you do, you are not alone.

Execution is hard.

Everyone can get excited about the important outcome, but it’s harder to get people excited about doing something hard and different every day for 18 months until you get the new thing done.

In very basic terms, the 2 things that get in the way of execution are… (even if everyone is aligned) that your team:

1. Doesn’t know what to do, specifically
2. Doesn’t know how to do it

Let me tell you what I mean.

1. People don’t know what to do, specifically

What I mean by this is that once you decide that your strategy is to build a new sales channel, or make your manufacturing process more efficient, or to sell higher, or to create a more competitive project, everyone can agree how much better the world looks 12-18 months from now when you achieve it.

Organizations can (and often do) put increased revenue numbers in their plan to reflect that these improvements have been achieved and are paying off.

But the place organizations get stuck is that the WHAT never gets clearly defined. For any one of these ideas, deciding WHAT to do specifically to achieve it is often difficult and controversial.

Defining WHAT to do is hard because it is a concrete decision that implies commitments and risks — and resource shifts. It is not a vague description of an important outcome. It’s an action plan.

And for any strategic initiative, there can be many possible WHAT’s. And it can be difficult to understand who is supposed to decide the WHAT. So there is a stall…

Do we build or buy? Do we hire or train? Do we change our marketing mix or add sales people? Do we change our partners or change our process of working with them?

Defining the WHAT is what initiates action, which requires saying NO to other options, which is hard… and organizations have a natural tendency to avoid it!

In my Strategy into Action sessions, I see that the big idea can finally get traction when we force the discussion about WHAT will we do, specifically: What concrete outcomes will we deliver? Along what timeline? with what resources from where? And with what measures?

Getting to this level of concreteness is hard work, but it’s the first and totally necessary step to navigate from talking to doing.

2. People don’t know how to do it

The next breakdown that I see is that the people are not ready to do the new thing.

It’s not that people are not talented and committed to make a difference, it is that the organization is trying to do something new, and in the first moments, they are trying to do it with the same people.

After you define the WHAT, it is so important to assess what the new tasks require, then assess what skills are required to do them. Then you need to be honest about what skills you have, and which ones you are lacking in your current team.

One of the most frequent breakdowns I see here in terms of skill gaps is that:

Mid level managers don’t have the strategic leadership skills necessary to prioritize and lead change, or that they simply don’t realize that their job has changed from managing projects to leading change.

So the executives expect their mid level managers to pick up the ball and start running with the new strategy, but they don’t.

Building Leadership Capacity for Change

When I work with organizations on transformations it often involves both of these steps. 1. Get very clear not only on the strategy and alignment, but on the WHAT you are going to do. And then 2. Train your mid level and director level managers to be ready to think and work and lead more strategically.

When I work with mid-level managers and directors I always find that there are some very talented and capable people who simply did not realize what it looks like to work more strategically. Once I was able to put some new ideas about leadership into their imagination, their contribution sky-rocketed.

Not every non-strategic manger will become strategic with training, but I have found that by providing the right insights and support, you can find the hidden strategic stars in your organization that you need to move your strategy forward — and they can help bring the rest of the organization with them.

What to do next?

If you find that you are talking about important future accomplishments but not doing them, consider these two steps. Ask yourself:
1. Have we clearly defined the WHAT?
2. Have we given enough support to our mid-level managers so that they truly understand what their job looks like in the new world? Have we helped them to feel confident to do what we need them to do?

And as always, contact me if you’d like to talk about it.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.

ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

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How to be more strategic



This month’s Professional Development webinar was on the topic of How to be More Strategic.

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Get the webinar

If you missed it you can download the recording.

Members of Azzarello group can download this webinar for free.

The Disconnect

Executives always tell me that they wish their directors and mid-level managers would be more strategic. Then directors and mid level managers tell me that they don’t feel empowered and are overwhelmed with work.

As I have helped management teams work through this to gain alignment and set priorities, I have discovered some patterns which I talked about in this webinar.

Achieving strategic alignment among all the levels of managements is critical for scaling, and also for morale!

This is a very useful webinar to download if you want to:

  • Better understand how executives think and what is expected of you
  • Develop more strategic leadership techniques
  • Negotiate your workload more effectively
  • Stand out by adding more value to the business
  • Communicate in way to build your credibility and Brand

1. What you Recognize about the work

Strategic leaders have a way of stepping back and judging whether or not what they have been asked to do is worth it. They are not limited by their job description. They see their job is more. They ask a lot of questions and always make a judgement about if the amount of time and effort a task will take to do, is worth it.

We talked about how to think about value and resist the temptation to just jump in and start doing the work. Treating all work requests equally could be a pretty good definition of what being strategic ISN’T!

2. How you think about the work

Strategic leaders are always questioning old habits looking for value. They don’t stay overwhelmed for very long. They figure out how to prioritize and make recommendations.

We talked about how to prioritize and create alignment so that you can turn the overwhelming workload into something that is both more valuable and also doable. Don’t try to do everything and die trying. Learn how to push back in a way that builds credibility and adds more value.

3. What you DO about the work

Strategic leaders solve problems, not just report them.

We talked about how to be more creative and innovative and how to think about personally conceiving of and leading the change that the business needs.

We talked about the difference between market facing strategy, and the additional strategic leadership behaviors needed to implement it.

4. How you COMMUNICATE about the work

Strategic leaders are communicators. You don’t have to be a showy communicator but you need to lead efforts to communicate insights throughout the organization.

We talked about what to communicate (not detail) and how to communicate (be a translator for each audience). We talked about the importance of making sure that insights are shared, and how to do it in the most productive and authentic way.

This webinar covers:

  • Strategic Disconnects. Ways leaders fail to be strategic
  • What you need to recognize about your work
  • How you need to think about and negotiate the work
  • The strategic way to approach what you DO about the work
  • How to communicate about the work at an executive level

Get started. Be more Strategic.

No one gives you permission to be more strategic even though they wish you would be! Don’t wait to be asked or directed. That’s what strategic leadership is. Recognize what the business needs and you take the lead. Don’t be limited by your job description. Question value. Question old habits. Make the work better. Seek and share information. Add value by sharing knowledge in relevant ways.

Your business needs you to step up.

Want some help?

To get some help with this and learn the specific ideas and techniques that we talked about, download the webinar: How to Be More Strategic, now.

Members: Download the webinar for free.
Non Members: You can purchase this individual webinar or podcast (links below).

There are some other really useful webinars in the Member Library related to this topic.

Members get these additional webinars for free:

So if you are not yet a member, you might as well join and get them all for free!

Let me be your mentor

Members of Azzarello Group basically get me as their mentor.

Every month you get new insights and tools in the form of these webinars, as well as the chance to call into a monthly members-only coaching hour where you can get direct personal coaching from me.

People tell me that membership gives them a totally new way of thinking about their career, getting promotions, solving difficult problems with bosses, peers, employees, and other annoying people, communicating better, being more influential, becoming a stronger leader, and enjoying their work more. I love to hear this, and I love to help!

If you join now, you’ll not only get this webinar, but all the other webinars in the Member Library.

AND you’ll get the opportunity to participate in monthly Coaching Hour conference calls with me.
Check out what we talk about.

AND as a member you’ll get to download your copy of the Career Year of action Guide (a $30 value) for free.

Membership is a great resource (and a steal at $179 for a whole year) to help you advance your career.

Join Now
Join Now.

TODAY ONLY
USE CODE: STRATEGIC
AT CHECKOUT TO SAVE $30 ON YOUR MEMBERSHIP

Other Options:

Purchase just this webinar ($19.99)
Purchase just this podcast ($9.99)


ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Rise_CVR_3D_300

Free eBook Download