Most adults who live and work in Jamaica are used to
watching everyday transactions like hawks. Every invoice, payment or message
must be tracked carefully due to the mistakes companies make in even simple
A $300 bill becomes one for $3000. An email with a
straightforward request gets lost. A phone rings without an answer. Most
Jamaican organizations have an issue dealing with their own recurring errors.
Compare this to the environment surrounding our world-class
athletes. In post-race interviews, they often contrast their planned versus
actual execution. They continually examine their performance to remove faults
in ways our companies don’t.
But there’s a bigger problem afoot. In the public sphere,
while we laud the construction of grand highways, we fail to fix ordinary
potholes. Ribbons are cut to launch projects to widen roads, but within days
the site looks like a war-zone, as if project management were never invented.
The challenge is that we focus on the initial vision and
the excitement around it, but when it wears off, a series of recurring
mistakes become par for the course.
Is your company facing a similar test? Do you put a lot of
effort into launching new initiatives but fail to solve repeated mistakes?
If you are in doubt as to the answer, ask employees. They
are the ones who complain about these maddening execution problems. But what
drives them nuts is not the issue itself, but the manager who chases symptoms
rather than causes.
The plain truth is that complex issues require people to
cross functional or hierarchical boundaries. This means they must put
themselves at risk, but it’s far easier to fire-fight and complain than to be
This managerial cowardice allows execution problems to
If this phenomenon sounds familiar, how can you transform
1. Re-Define Execution
The problem with a common term like execution is everyone
thinks they know what it means and therefore uses it loosely. After a while, it
loses whatever meaning it ever had.
Research shows that sometimes issues recur when companies
don’t have a rich enough language to describe them. In other words, they can’t
even talk about the challenge in a fruitful way.
To bring an over-used concept to life, you’ll need to
redefine it afresh so it meets the unique needs of your environment.
For example, let’s imagine you coin a phrase: “flawless
execution.” It could equate to “completing a function or process such that
there are no mistakes which create further problems.”
With that in mind, “flawless execution” can be adapted as a
new universal standard that everyone is taught to use. It should become part of
the performance management system as well.
2. Own Execution
Many companies are happy to employee workers who simply take
orders without taking any additional initiative. In other words, the manager’s
job is to think and direct, while those underneath them should merely follow.
In modern organizations, this common approach leads to
While passive employees may be able to solve simple
problems, challenges which require some thinking and coordination with others
demand more. In other words, staff must have the power to take the initiative
without the manager being involved.
Managers who try to micro-manage end up becoming
overwhelmed. So do those who try to do all the thinking.
The solution is for managers to transform all the ways
in which they undermine employee initiative. The best leaders are
vigilant: they actively seek feedback on their approach to managing others to
discover where they are preventing staff from problem-solving. They get
themselves out of the way, and ask employees to let them know when they become
controlling or otherwise offensive.
But is this enough?
3. Teaching Problem-Solving Skills
Unfortunately, even motivated employees find that solving
tricky process problems isn’t easy. Not only are excellent communication skills
required, but a capacity for critical thinking and data analysis are a must.
Most employees are weak in these areas and lack training. A
smart leader will develop these competences in a systematic fashion, knowing
that as they do so, they help staff solve recurring execution problems on their
In other words, it’s the only way to implement a new ideal
like “flawless execution”.
Given the fact that our athletes and coaches use these
techniques every day to achieve world class standards, it makes sense for our
organizations to try to do the same. Even though it’s more difficult to do so
in groups of people, the rewards are more far-reaching.