Imagine that you are planning a vacation from Chicago to visit a friend in Los Angeles. As part of that trip you decide that driving and seeing the countryside will be a great way to enjoy the trip.
A little south of Chicago, you get on Interstate-80 and start heading west. You drive for hours and then days, feeling yourself getting closer the further you head west. You feel your destination getting closer as you drive through Salt Lake City and enter the state of Nevada. You can almost smell the ocean as you pass through Sacramento and begin driving through wine country.
Then, unexpectedly, after days of driving, you are welcomed to San Francisco. San Francisco? You wanted to go to LA. Which is six hours southeast.
Ridiculous? Of course. But this approach is practiced in the business world every day, by more people than you would believe.
People in business who call themselves leaders, don’t actually lead people. They come to work, tell their people to take a trip and expect them to get in the car and drive.
The one difference is that their direction may not be as specific as “head west”. In the business world, leaders often don’t even give that much information. Many workers simply get in their cars and start driving. Some people go west. Some people go south. Some just come in to work, stay in Chicago, and cruise the web, getting nowhere, letting the others drive their separate ways.
Businesses define mission statements, value statements, and strategies. Sometimes the three contradict each other. Most are defined at such a high level that it makes no sense to the lower level workers. The missing ingredient is execution.
Defining a vague strategy without a roadmap for execution is like planning a vacation without a specific destination and no plan for getting there.
The opposite end is micromanagement. Here, corporate leadership defines the strategy, maps out the route, specifies who will go there, what car they will drive, where and when to stop for gas, food, lodging, and restroom breaks, and a plethora of other minute details.
The former approach gives no one in the company direction. The latter approach gives so much direction that the company spends all of its resources verifying that all of the rules were followed.
Imagine this scenario instead. The company announces that their strategy is to drive to Los Angeles. They would like everyone to be at The Staples Center within four days.
With that stated strategy, the company could provide each person with a budget and information on automobile efficiency statistics, GPS software, lodging information, etc. They set up periodic status calls to ensure that everyone is on track and to provide guidance to anyone who falls behind.
Each employee will be evaluated on some combination of their own accomplishment and that of the collective group to provide incentive to contribute to the strategy as a team effort.
For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management
With the information, guidance, and incentive structure provided by the company, each worker would have the latitude to make his or her own decisions regarding how to help the company accomplish its strategy. Knowing that they will be fairly evaluated on reaching the destination in a timely and efficient manner, each worker will work to reach their goal, help others reach their goals, and assist the company in executing their strategy.
Some companies fail to establish an effective strategy. Others may establish one, but do a poor job at communicating it to the organization. Still others fail to provide their workers with the tools to execute the strategy successfully.
To successfully take the trip from Chicago to LA, you have to establish the correct endpoint as the target, communicate that target to the correct stakeholders, and provide all of the correct tools to ensure effective execution. Otherwise, your chances of ending up in the wrong destination are almost certain.
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