The Gap Nobody Knows: How to Successfully Execute Strategy

“The gap between promises and results is widespread and clear. The gap nobody knows is the gap between what a company’s leaders want to achieve and the ability of their organization to achieve it.”—Larry Bossidy, former CEO, Honeywell and General Electric

The gap nobody knows is bridged by day-to-day operations. Everything comes from it. It’s where your company lives and breathes–where ideas spring to life in the form of people, process and teamwork.  It is the heart of execution–where strategy succeeds or fails. It’s a space I’ve worked in for over 25 years, and where I help leaders and teams succeed today.

Day-to-day operations comprise roughly 80% of most organizations, making it one of their largest investments.  Yet this asset is often overlooked. Not leveraging its value widens the gap and means your company is leaving money on the table. In today’s economy, where resources are at a premium and you need to organize and expedite at the speed of change, can you afford to do that?

So why is it undervalued and underutilized?

I’ve asked a few leaders this same question, and they all focused on strategy as the one thing that mattered most. In fact, one leader, when asked about day-to-day operations and execution, waved his hand in dismissal and said “that’s management’s problem.”

As dieting is a favorite topic of mine, I asked this leader to compare business strategy and execution with a personal goal of losing weight. You want to lose 20 pounds. You plan on joining a gym, drinking 8 glasses of water a day, controlling food portions and counting calories. That’s your strategy—the direction you wish to take. You can say it a thousand times, promise your doctor or spouse, clip out photos of the ‘dream figure’ and attach it to your refrigerator door.

But unless you take the necessary steps to incorporate your plan into your everyday routine, nothing happens. No change. Not one pound shed. Your weight remains the same—you don’t move forward and you don’t reach your goal. Promises don’t yield results without day-to-day execution.

So, what does it really take to execute strategy successfully and affect positive change?:

  • Have the right resources: Healthy food, personal trainer, scale, calorie calculator.
  • Develop realistic timelines and expectations: 2 pounds a week for 10-12 weeks. The greatest mistake most dieters (and leaders) make is being unrealistic about how long things take. Being realistic limits risk and disappointment.
  • Decide a deadline: Your svelte cousin’s wedding. The holidays. It’s amazing how activity levels rise as deadlines loom.
  • Get support: Choose the best people to help you stay on track: friends, family, personal trainer.
  • Take action every day: Go to the gym, exercise, eat lots of vegetables, count calories.
  • Stay motivated and energized: Keep your eyes on the prize—what success looks like (remember that picture on the refrigerator?)
  • Minimize distractions: Especially procrastination and perfectionism. Try to avoid wasting time on the wrong activities and getting discouraged if you veer off course now and then.
  • Allow for setbacks and unforeseen events: Parties that involve red velvet cake. Need I say more?
  • Monitor for results: Be accountable and follow through: have someone record your weight and measurements on a regular basis. Monitoring is the key to successful change.
  • Link rewards to performance: Reinforce progress by celebrating milestones with small rewards and work towards that new wardrobe when you reach your goal.

The leader appreciated the analogy: Strategy only works when you take the necessary steps every day to move it forward. That’s how you turn promises into results.

Leadership is not just about pointing the way—it’s about being an integral part of the process from start to finish. It’s about dealing with the realistic issues of the day. It’s about tapping into your greatest asset–day-to-day operations–to get your company where it needs to go.

And who knows?  Maybe you’ll lose a pound or two along the way.

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