Our last posting talked about BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and we asked, “What’s Your New Year’s BHAG?” But achieving a BHAG is just like keeping a New Year’s resolution: it’s all in the execution. It’s all in the doing. It’s one thing to dream up a BHAG, it’s quite another to put the wheels in motion and do it. The problem is this: a small business owner will direct that something be done . . . whether it’s a BHAG, annual plan, or some other task-oriented goal . . . but then gets distracted by ongoing customer demands and by the daily brush fires that need to be put out. As a result, the goal, whatever it is, gets put on the shelf and forgotten. If execution is a problem for you and your organization, please read below for some thoughts on how to turn that around.
Why can’t we ever get anything done around here?
We commonly hear business owners complain, “I ask my people to do something, and when I turn around three months later, it’s still not done. Drives me crazy!”
So let’s be clear. When your people aren’t doing what you ask them to do on a timely basis, it’s your fault, not theirs. It’s your fault because you apparently have not made specific assignments, have not set reasonable deadlines, have not required appropriate status reports so that you know how the assigned tasks are progressing, and most importantly, have not given feedback on those status reports so that your people know you’re paying attention to them. It would be nice if you could just throw down a lightning bolt and walk away with the certain knowledge your people would do your bidding, but it generally doesn’t work that way.
Here’s what really happens.
You direct your people to do something, to complete some task. They wonder if you’re really serious about this because, after all, you tend to throw down these lightning bolts all the time and then promptly forget about them. So they watch, and they see that you’re off in some entirely new direction with nary a glance in your rearview mirror. Since they have their own daily fires to put out, they forget about your lightning bolt because apparently, so have you.
I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy solution to this that requires little or nothing from you, but I can’t. If I could, I’d be sitting on a warm beach someplace drinking something with a little umbrella in it. The truth is, your people will pay attention to the things they can see you paying attention to. The things you ignore, they will ignore. It’s that simple.
If you have a task or a project of some kind that is outside of your organization’s normal activity, here’s how to get it done:
1. Assign a “champion” who you can hold accountable for completing the task. This has to be a single individual, not a team or a committee. When more than one person is accountable, nobody’s accountable. The champion can recruit others who are accountable to him or her, but only the champion is accountable to you.
2. Discuss the goal you want to achieve with the champion. Make sure you agree on the outcome to be achieved, a budget (if an investment is required), and a deadline for completion, but avoid micro-managing the details of how that outcome will be achieved. Let the champion figure that out.
3. Determine how you will get feedback from the champion on his or her progress. If you have regular staff meetings, feedback on goals-in-progress could be a standard agenda item. If not, you might have to schedule regular face-to-face or telephone meetings with the champion, or if you prefer, written reports.
4. Make sure your champion knows you’re paying attention to the feedback you’re getting, particularly if it’s written and not verbal. If you sense the task is getting bogged down or heading in the wrong direction, discuss it with your champion and find out how he or she intends to get it back on track.
The keys are #3 and #4. You’ve got to find a disciplined approach to getting progress reports on assigned tasks, and you’ve got to offer a reaction to those reports so your champion knows his or her project still has your attention. What if the feedback mechanism stops working . . . that is, meetings or written reports get skipped . . . and the boss (that would be you) doesn’t say anything about it. If feedback gets sporadic or even stops altogether and the boss doesn’t even notice, the champion concludes his or her task is no longer important, and so it goes on the shelf and is forgotten.
The bad news is, this 4-step process does take a little more time and effort than throwing down a lightning bolt and forgetting about it. The good news is, if you follow the four steps rigorously and with discipline, your important projects will be completed successfully, and in a timely manner. And as a bonus, your people will learn accountability and embrace it as a part of your culture. I’d say that’s a pretty good ROI for your investment of time and effort.