How We’re Overcoming The Problem of Not Executing On Plans

Executing on Plans / April 26, 2019 / mpaclarkmc

Every small business goes through an execution draught. The team doesn’t feel aligned, there are too many priorities in flight, and deadlines slip as projects never seem to come to completion.

It’s a painful place to be, often demoralizing and it’s a killer of company morale. We’ve been there.

If it goes unchecked for too long, it can spell big trouble; leading to mediocrity at best or door shutting disaster at worst. We’ve struggled with this challenge in the past but through self-reflection, we’ve managed to identify the problem and come up with strategies to combat it.

Here are 4 strategies we’ve implemented to help us overcome this problem. Applying these strategies consistently has helped us improve our execution and overall success. It’s still a work in progress, but we’ve seen and felt a major difference both in company morale and in our bottom-line.

How we're overcoming the problem of not executing on plans by driving more focus and alignment in the team

Set a rhythm for zooming out

When you’re always looking at the trees, you can’t see the forest. Taking time to zoom out and reflect on the company’s challenges, goals, and priorities has been vital in setting direction. It can be a very hard thing to do while enthralled in the day to day activities of keeping everything on track. But without spending this deliberate time to re-evaluate at a higher level, it’s impossible to set overall direction and identify potential pitfalls on the horizon.

Because finding this time can be so hard, you need to be disciplined and force it, or find your magic sauce to facilitate it. Personally, I need to disconnect from the “office” to set my mind free. The simplest approach I take is to go offline for an afternoon and spend it somewhere that’s out of the ordinary from my usual routine. I find the change in scenery helps trigger my brain to go into a different mode than the normal day to day. Spending the afternoon at a local coffee shop catching up on a business book and writing out my thoughts helps immensely to get a fresh perspective. It also helps me question our current situation.

To make sure I stick to this routine, I schedule it once a month in my Daylite calendar. This helps me stick to it, regardless of the inevitable fires of the day. Having it planned in my Daylite calendar also helps me keep it top of mind so I look forward to it and actually follow through.

The key is to zoom out from the day to day, gain a new perspective, identify problems and opportunities, and to form that vision of where the business needs to go in the next year or two. This process also creates space to think through potential risks and set proactive plans in motion.

Planning is the foundation

Taking deliberate time from your day to day to zoom out is just the first step in making sure that the company is moving in the right direction to realize your vision. Sometimes you’ll walk away from your time reflecting feeling reaffirmed that the company in on the right track and that everyone is working on the most important priorities. This is great because then you can go back to the day to day and continue to execute knowing you’re focused on the right things.

But more often than not, your zoom out will lead to insights on how to improve the company direction, and in some cases, perhaps highlight a drastic change in direction that needs to happen. This is when you need to enlist the help of your team.

We have a rhythm of meeting for a full day every month where my goal is to help the executive team zoom out and look at the big picture together. We review our stats, discuss employee and customer feedback, and have a discussion about a book or topic to make sure we’re all learning together. It’s during this zoom out with the team where I’ll bring insights, concerns or proposed direction changes to the table to get input. It gives the team the perfect opportunity to bring their own insights and concerns and allows for open discussion and debates of these topics.

It’s during these monthly meetings where we strengthen our execution plan and drive alignment, making sure we stay on track to meet our high level goals. The team is then ready to go back to their teams with a fresh perspective, and do what’s needed to achieve our goal.

Having this rhythm of zooming out once a month to reflect and then engage the team has been critical to our success. What’s important to achieve during this process of zooming out, is setting direction and then deciding on the most important priorities and build focus around how to succeed. Not just succeed, but how best to succeed in the most effective time frame. We create clarity on the vision, ensure everyone understands what we must do to get there, then our managers can rally the troops and align everyone to execute.

Saying NO is a superpower

In order to get and stay laser focused on our most important priorities requires that we develop a superpower. We’ve been working at cultivating that superpower, a task that never seems complete no matter how many years we practice. I feel that we will always have room to improve on this as it’s one of the most important and often difficult things to do to be successful. What I’m talking about is the ability to say NO.

We always have way too many things vying for our attention. Especially in the small business world where we are often wearing multiple hats and juggling an endless number of priorities. There is constant demand for our time and we must guard our time as the precious commodity that it is. The trick is, once clarity emerges on the most important priorities, to constantly weigh new demands for your attention against what’s already been decided are the top priorities.

In the planning process it’s difficult to say NO, but a little easier than the execution phase. When you’re surrounded by your team and you all have a clear vision on what you are trying to achieve, you can work together to say NO to the high level demands that are not the most important right now. It’s still hard, often times it feels wrong to say no to certain things, but the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Where I feel the superpower really pays dividends is in the day to day execution. Here you have to be relentless; constantly weighing demands against your priorities and ruthlessly saying NO to anything that distracts. It’s so easy to take on little tasks here and there, but they all add up fast and turn into distractions, causing you to lose precious time on the things that will move you towards your goals.

Find a narrow focus

At the root of our successes has been a constantly narrowing focus. So narrow that it can painful to lock in because of the discipline it has required. Identifying the most important priorities to rally the entire company around has been our secret.

When we have a clear focus and priority, it becomes easier to message that priority to the company and ensure everyone is focused on that one key thing. Having that narrow focus to align everyone in the company is a powerful thing. When people understand the company’s main priority, collaboration improves. Everyone stays focused on helping each other to reach the goal. This helps speed up execution and makes it easier to raise and remove bottlenecks as they get in the way.

Moral of the story

In the end, taking the time to see the forest from the trees has many benefits which will reverberate throughout your small business. It’s definitely key in creating the planning rhythms necessary to craft your vision for the business. Having this vision helps you identify the most important company priorities year to year and quarter to quarter, which will help you achieve your vision as quickly as possible. The clarity this narrow focus will give your team will drive alignment and cooperation like you’ve never seen. This is where you’ll see the ROI in taking the time to consistently zoom out and plan for the future.

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