Credible statistics show that between 60 and 90 per cent of organizations never execute their plans. It is odd but true that organizations do deploy quality time and copious resources to fashion out strategic plans which they hope will give them an edge in their industry only to leave undone that which is critical to their effecting a change in their narrative. While many organizations are gung-hu about coming up with plans and policies, they are not as excited with the implementation. This is one of the major reasons for failure experienced by organizations. To succeed, a leader must ensure that the organization he leads pays serious attention to the execution of plans.
The failure of companies to follow through their plans has ceaselessly interested researchers who have devoted time to finding out why this happens. Here are some of their findings.
Many organizations do not operate as one but instead as an amalgamation of departments or units. So, instead of all the departments pushing in the same direction, each of them pursues their personal programmes to the detriment of the corporate goal. When the different segments in an organization pull in different directions, cohesion is lost and the progress of the organization is stalled. Synergy is ensured only when there is unity of purpose. Where internal rivalry holds sway, rallying support for the main idea becomes impossible.
Sometimes the leader inadvertently fuels rivalry in his organization by over identifying with a department. While it is true that a leader must have risen to the current level through a department or a division in the organization, once he becomes the head he should cease to see himself as a member of a division or department but as a leader of all departments and divisions.
After carving out a strategic plan for the organization, sometimes the leadership subjects the plan to a series of scrutiny and analysis with a view to getting the best out of it. Though the intention is sublime, failure to work the plan immediately almost always results in what is known as analysis paralysis. Excessive analysis usually robs an organization of the steam with which to drive the plan. If instead of working on a plan an organization keeps turning it around, it loses momentum. Once momentum is lost, interest wanes and a spot is found for the plan on the shelf.
Sometimes when the plan will result in a somewhat revolutionary outcome, some companies are tempted to play it safe by not jumping into it at a go. But vacillating in making a good move is akin to making a bad move. Every plan has its span; delaying to birth a plan at the appropriate time more often than not results in making it a stillbirth.
Graham Bell Vs Elisha Gray
On February 14, 1876, Mr. Elisha Gray’s lawyer approached the Patent Office in the United States of America to register his invention, the telephone. However, one hour earlier, Graham Bell had been to the office to register his own invention, the telephone. Because Bell beat Gray to the Patent Office, he was given the patent for that invention. For years, both Bell and Gray had worked independently on their inventions; both invested their time and other resources on the inventions, and they probably concluded their experiments about the same time. But the world recognizes Bell as the inventor of the telephone because he beat Gray to the Patent Office by one hour. If Bell had delayed going to the office by 90minutes, the story would have been different.
The prize always goes to the one who makes hay while the sun shines.
How to bridge the planning-execution gap
To avoid being a victim of failure to execute a plan, leaders need to pay attention to the following.
Define specific objectives
The first step to achieving success in any venture is to determine what success means. It is difficult to find what has not been defined in specific terms. The aim for going into the exercise that produced the plan was not to come up with a plan but to embark on a programme that would take the organization from the level it was to a higher one. Knowing this and putting it in focus would keep the organization on its toes in the effort to execute the plans.
The major challenge faced by most organizations has to do with combining the execution of a strategic plan with running its routine activities. When there is a clash between the urgent and the important, it is the important that often suffers. Not many companies are able to extricate themselves from the pressing demands of the moment to make room for the emergence of a prosperous future. This is why strategic plans are often sacrificed on the altar of expediency. But leaders who are conscious of the Murphy’s Law which states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, are often careful to ensure that they keep their eyes on the plan by defining their specific objectives which they never fail to appraise on a daily basis.
Communicate expectations and why
A leader can never over-communicate. As a matter of fact one of the basic responsibilities of a leader is to communicate the vision and the essence of the organization to all stakeholders. So, a leader must never leave his people in doubt about his expectations of them. If expectations are not properly communicated, there will be gaps in execution. In the book, The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard advocates that in order to have an effective execution of plans there must be an agreement on goals. The leader and the team must be on the same page concerning what is expected of the team. If expectations are clearly stated, it becomes easy to measure performance.
But beyond just giving the team what is expected of them, it is important that the leader lets the people into why the organization is taking the route it has opted for. The only way to get a buy-in from the people is to let them know why the plan is important and their role in its realization. As put by Friedrich Nietzsche, he who has a why can bear almost anyhow. If the team members are made to comprehend what the organization is doing, why it is doing and why their own role in its execution is important, it is almost certain that they will give their all to its success.
Whatever is left to chance is certain to be a victim of fate. Leaders, knowing that things don’t just happen but are rather made to happen, always put a timeline to whatever plan they want to see come to life. They know that unless a timeline is attached to an assignment the assignment may never get done. According to the Parkinson’s Law, propounded by C. Northcote Parkinson, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. The import of the law is that a task will never get to the concluding stage unless a time is set for its completion. To make the most of time and get the best out of a task, a deadline must be set for it right from the outset. Failure of which will leave the work to continue almost ad infinitum.
Monitor and measure progress
Every team member who knows he has to give a report about the task he has been assigned will endeavour to get the expected result. The tendency is to slow down and do what is convenient when there is no premium placed on the provision of feedback. So, to ensure that no room for failure is allowed, the leadership of the organization must put measures in place to assess progress. As explained by Louis V. Gartner, a leader should not expect what he does not regularly inspect. To avoid having a plan that gets stuck along the way or that does not get executed at all, the onus is on the leader to always monitor and measure progress. If he does anything to the contrary the outcome will leave him disappointed, dissatisfied and disillusioned.
Factor in the unexpected
Plans don’t always pan out as planned. There are times when well thought-out plans go awry not because of the incompetence or carelessness of those handling it but due principally to unforeseen circumstances which could be as a result of change in government policies, natural disasters or even sicknesses. Therefore, it is important to always have a fallback position, also known as Plan B, to guard against being a victim of circumstances. The effect of any unexpected occurrence is mitigated if a Plan B had been thought of and factored into the planning process.