“Do you ever coach more than one person in an organization?” the CEO asked me during our morning coaching session.
“Often,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”
“I have this guy who runs one of our divisions who is really good with the customer, really good with quality but he is old school and not so good with people. 30% turnover is the norm in that division. We need to improve that and get better.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “And then you will have to balance constant change with constant improvement. This will not be easy.”
Years ago, in an early session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, a former agriculture salesman shared a simple truth with me, “the bigger the burger, the bigger the bun.” Right now, the burger, i.e the moment of truth when a customer engages with your products and services, is more important than ever. Therefore, we need to look at the bun, namely the four pillars that support the burger, i.e. people structure, systems and culture.
As we all know, change can come in two basic forms: doing things better or doing things differently. However, the majority of operational excellence is focused on maintaining SOP, which means doing things the same. As leaders, we at times forget that there are a lot of systems and infra-structure engaged in this level of work. We also forget that real change requires real effort. And today in companies all over the globe, most of the effort is focused on maintaining order rather than making things better or different.
Now the common solution to this situation is to generate SMART Goals, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. However from my vantage point, the real solution is to translate SMART Goals into SMART Execution.
First, there is an assumption related to SMART Goals and operational excellence, namely that all SMART goals are owned and understood by those who are going to do the work rather than imposed by those who manage the work. From what I hear and see, ownership is low right now and imposition by external forces to do better and be more profitable is high and getting higher. For SMART Goals to become SMART Execution, we must have ownership.
Second, SMART Execution assumes a leader, manager or supervisor is actively involved in monitoring and coaching someone on their progress related to the SMART Goals. Right now there are few good coaches and fewer people who are committed to do it. When time becomes pressurized by operational problem solving, then coaching falls by the wayside. For SMART Execution to take place, coaching is a non-negotiable. Every one must do it and participate in it on a regular basis.
As SMART Execution takes place, we need to realize that other people’s perceptions may take time to change. As we all know, each of us carries preconceived notions of other people and other departments. We are often prejudiced by experience and information. When SMART Execution takes place, we need to understand that changing perceptions takes time and awareness. Often people during constant change are not very aware as much as just coping.
Furthermore, the more things change, the more things stay the same which is a problem during SMART Execution. Few people plan for distractions, competing goals or the proverbial “once in a lifetime” short-term profit opportunities to appear, but they do show up and it does happen.
At the same time, few people plan and invest time and energy into the maintenance element of what ever they are seeking to change. Remember the line: If you build it, they will come. From my perspective, go ahead and build it but also remember to have dollars set aside for re-shingling the roof, fixing the toilet and providing three good meals a day.
For many leaders, the fun is in the building of the SMART Goals. But wise people know that there is more to life than just building new goals. Someone must move from creating the goals to executing them. SMART Execution may not always be glamorous but the discipline of SMART Execution is the foundation to sustainability and excellence.