Boardrooms are littered with good intentions. A company’s ideas are floated and fleshed out, dissected and even greenlighted, but in many cases, they never quite reach fruition.
Sometimes it’s a matter of imagination (or lack thereof). Sometimes it’s a matter of communication. Sometimes it’s a matter of collaboration. Whatever the case, execution has become an enormous concern for businesses. A 2015 Harvard Business Review survey of 400 CEOs from across the globe revealed that execution was their most pressing concern, and according to HBR, other studies have shown that as many as 75 percent of large organizations find it difficult to enact their plans.
What’s a leader to do? Be bold. Be decisive. Be transparent. But also be aware of your own limitations. The last point is not to be taken lightly, as HBR notes that the larger the company, the more likely it is that execution will be steered by “distributed leaders” — i.e., middle managers — as opposed to those in the C-Suite.
At The Allure Group — a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities — we are constantly seeking out new and better ways to serve our residents, fully aware that America is growing older, and that the shortage of healthcare professionals (especially nurses) can only be expected to become more acute in the coming years. As a result our focus is on innovation, and will continue to be. On devices that will not only be time-saving but will ensure better patient outcomes. On EarlySense, a remote monitoring system that tracks patients’ vital signs and movements. On robotics for rehabilitation and a telemedicine platform called Telehealth.
Note, however, that we carefully consider everything before implementation. We give the go-ahead to perhaps one of every six ideas we discuss. While many are rejected for good reason (i.e., they are simply inadequate), some are put on the back burner for possible consideration at a later date, as timing is often a key to any good idea coming to fruition.
That HBR report noted several other factors that come into play:
- Alignment: While 84 percent of managers said they can rely on their direct reports, only nine percent believe that holds true for those in other units. Cross-silo coordination and collaboration is a major stumbling block, despite the presence of systems designed to ensure such things occur. Survey respondents said those systems only work 20 percent of the time.
- Agility: While it’s obviously crucial to have a plan, the key to seeing things through is adapting that plan to changing circumstances. Unfortunately, managers informed HBR that CEOs are slow to shift adequate resources — whether funds, people or attention — when a project calls for it; according to the survey, it only happens about 20 percent of the time. And nearly half of the respondents said their company rarely makes such a move.
- Imagination: Too often, managers said, companies fail to reward ambition and experimentation. Rather, a play-it-safe mentality prevails, which inhibits growth.
- Communication: It is often constant, but just as often fails to hit the mark. While CEOs flood the inboxes of subordinates, the messages become muddled. The HBR survey showed that less than a third of managers could name two company priorities, while over half couldn’t even name one.
- Leadership: As mentioned above, it needs to come from the middle. Those are the people employees see on a day-to-day basis. They are the ones who drive performance by holding people accountable.
What’s a CEO to do, then? Plenty. Here are some tips:
1. See the big picture.
And to do that, you need to know where to look. At Allure, senior management makes regular visits to our six facilities, to ensure that we are fully cognizant of the challenges facing our staff and residents. That enables us to create niche programs that can better serve everybody involved.
Along with that, we solicit input from our resident advisory councils, who can apprise us of any issues we might have missed. And we are very aware of what our competitors are doing, as their ideas might be adaptable to our needs.
Our hope is that by striking out in these many directions we ensure the sort of creativity and forward-thinking that is needed in this day and age.
2. Assemble the right team.
I made the mistake of hiring only friends and family members when I first went into business, which prevented me from getting the sort of feedback needed to ensure growth. It also left me in a position where I had too much on my plate.
Since then, however, I have surrounded myself with people who are wiser and more experienced than myself, which is of immeasurable help not only in terms of ideation but execution. Their ideas are heard. Their skills are valued. As an Inc.com report notes, it is important to engage your team meaningfully, and that is just what happens under this arrangement.
Moreover, those involved become the sort of distributed leaders so crucial to the execution of a business strategy.
3. Understand what you don’t know.
Business coach Marla Tabaka advises that all leaders tap into what sort of learners they are — whether visual, auditory, or kinesthetic — and allow that to inform their creative approach.
She points out that laying out a plan can be as simple as outlining goals on a poster board, or even Post-It Notes. Another option, she writes, is setting up a timeline on a computer, complete with reminders about what steps need to be reached at any given time.
The idea is that the plan can be made clear to everybody, and that it can be adapted at a moment’s notice. As we have seen, both things are of the utmost importance.
4. Learn from your mistakes.
There are going to be missteps along the way. There is no simply no avoiding them. At the same time, they need not scuttle the project entirely. They can, instead, become valuable lessons.
A case in point is that I overlooked the importance of online branding when I founded Allure. That has since been rectified, though it is an ever-changing landscape, with new social media platforms emerging seemingly by the day and all manner of other digital elements, like Yelp, coming to bear.
The point, once again, is that circumstances change. And that agility is crucial.
Execution, ultimately, is a matter of understanding that an idea seldom follows a straight line when it emerges from the boardroom — that new challenges and demands will come up along the way, before the plan reaches full flower. CEOs, as a result, must be vigilant, and adaptable.