After many years on the front lines of efforts to translate good ideas into good outcomes, I’ve observed a few common themes that define the contours of strategy execution. In general, strategy execution is defined by where a team, and above all, its leadership, operate, along three axes. Finding or recovering executional momentum means succeeding in pushing your efforts to the right of each axis. You’ll see how that works here.
The Decision Axis spans from “indecisive” to “decisive.” It defines whether a team understands its ultimate point of arrival. How confident are you that you will stick with that destination over the course of an effort?
The Planning Axis spans from “impulsive” to “planful.” It defines a team’s clarity in the exact steps that will lead from where you are now to where you have decided to be. How detailed are your short, medium, and long-term action plans?
The Outcomes Axis spans from “negative” to “positive.” It defines a team’s success in attaining a desirable end state, defined by higher profits, lower costs, or happier stakeholders. How satisfied are you, and your constituents, with the results of your effort?
This diagnostic is intended to help you become consciously aware of where you are on each axis, so that you can take measured action to be more planful, act more decisively, and achieve more positive results. This is the “Zone Of Coherence.”
While positive outcomes are possible without plans or without decisiveness, they fall within the “Zone Of Luck.” You may be better off trusting such approaches in Las Vegas than in the boardroom. You can even break it down a little further. Positive outcomes without plans or decisions could be considered “dumb luck,” while positive outcomes that come from a decision but no plan are more like “winning the lottery.” You bought the ticket, but you can’t really take credit for the result.
And why analyze negative outcomes? The point is to avoid them before they happen. Moving toward a negative outcome, with no plan, and not driven forward by decisions can be thought of as another way to describe inevitable failure. It becomes increasingly less likely you can recover in that scenario.
Movement towards negative outcomes also happens to highlight some of the true power of planful, decisive dynamics. A planful approach helps teams anticipate negative outcomes, because good planning always includes regular measurement of your speed, progress, and direction. While a planful approach to a negative destination will feel more like the “Zone Of Doom,” decisiveness can help you right course by taking swift action as negative signals and feedback accumulate. While being in the “Zone Of Coherence” is ideal, most strong teams function just as well in this last scenario, which we can call the “Zone Of Correction.”
So what can you do to position your efforts along these axes better? Regardless of how well you think a project is going, or how far along you are, if you don’t have a plan, it’s a sign you’re taking your chances. Stop and make one. If the definition of what counts as success veers wildly from one thing to another, your plans won’t matter, and your progress towards a positive outcome can be upended at any time. Give yourself a leadership reset so you can commit to a direction and outcome. The more honest a team and its leaders are with themselves about their position and direction, the more likely they are to achieve a successful result.