Leaders do a lot of talking.
It’s their job to paint the picture of what is supposed to be happening- that grand world of team harmony and stellar execution.
I hear a lot of that talk these days as an angel investor, and by and large, most of the startup CEOs I listen to do a pretty good job of that kind of visioning.
Where the rubber meets the road, however, is when these CEOs go from talk to action.
The “getting things done” part of leadership is where the successes get separated from the failures, and oftentimes it doesn’t get the attention that it truly deserves.
As if, leaders could just simply put it all out there for their teammates, and through some kind of magic, everything just happens.
It’s a nice thought, because the hard reality is that getting things done takes a LOT more than talk. It requires a strong and decisive move to action on the part of the leader. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
That is, the leader can’t just be a spectator in the execution – the leader is a key part of it.
What do I mean by this? What are the critical steps in going from talk to action?
I break it down to 4 steps:
- Set up meaningful metrics and measurements, both short-term and long-term, that cascade down the organization. The key here is to focus on only 3-4 targets per cascade level that have specific relevance to that level – for example, in my cable company our 3 company-wide numbers were total customers, Net Promoter Score, and our Customer Fault Rate, while at the call center level, they were Service Level, Abandonment Rate, and First Call Resolution.
- Relentlessly link the metrics and measurements to the specific performance standards of the individuals involved in the execution. That’s the technical way of saying “explain the context and what’s in it for them“. Why are these numbers important to the overall objectives of the company? How does every teammate effect those numbers? Why is hitting those targets important to THAT person?
- Make it all transparent and public, through weekly (and even daily) reports that track progress. I was a fanatic about this one- I like to put numbers everywhere – on walls, white boards, intranets, email signatures, and in craniums (I required all of my teammates to know the 3 company-wide numbers on a weekly basis, if asked – and I did, often). And here’s another uptick – humans generally love the competitive aspect of things like scoreboards, and so they typically add another layer of peer-influenced motivation.
- Hold everyone, and yourself, accountable to the results by constant monitoring and feedback. Once 1-3 is done the work really begins. If you aren’t leading the way in doing the deep dives on the numbers (that’s right, actually reading the reports you get in your inbox every week), and then feeding back, encouraging, pushing, cheerleading, coaching, and rewarding, then the dial will never be turned up from good to great. If you are doing your job, your teammates will want the feedback – in fact, they will crave it. They will want you to lead the way. I would have several management calls a week that were focused on that kind of feedback, involving all the key players, that were absolutely invaluable.
If you read back 1-4 again, this underlying theme will pop out, so well stated by Peter Drucker- “What’s measured improves“.
Don’t forget this, ever, if you want to turn your visions into a grand (and triumphant) reality.