Business in Cartoons

Comparing Apples and Execution

making strategy execution
This chapter is directly from Paul.

As a busy consultant with clients around the globe, I spend a lot of nights in hotel rooms, and over the years have developed my share of routines. I’ve established habits for things like: What order to unpack in, where I put my things, what side of the bed I sleep on, and so on. My routine even extends to the ritual for checking out, which always starts with running over a checklist before I leave my room. Do I have my keys (if renting a car)? Have I left anything in the room? Is my phone charger (it’s the No. 1 item left in hotel rooms) unplugged and in my backpack? Satisfied I’m ready to leave, I head out the door, and away I go.

On a recent trip, as I was dutifully going through my pre-exit checklist, a thought bubbled up from my growling tummy, I’m hungry. No problem I figured, I’ll stop by the buffet on my way to the reception desk and grab an apple. Satisfied I’d solved that problem, I finalized the checklist, turned out the light and headed for the elevator. Just a few minutes later I was sitting in my rented Nissan Sentra en route to the client’s office. But, do you think I had an apple with me? The answer, sadly for my empty stomach, is no. Now you could say that I’m just absentminded or was in a rush to make sure I was on time for the meeting, but there is a scientific reason for my forgetfulness. Because I was hungry I intended to pick up an apple on the way to reception. However, I normally don’t get apples on my way to check out, and thus the force of my very ingrained checkout habit was exponentially stronger than my immediate intention. Turns out that regardless of the situation, whenever our habits are stronger than our intentions, habits will invariably win.

So, what does this have to do with strategy execution? When we embark on an execution program, with the Balanced Scorecard or OKR, we’re launching a change initiative whether we label it that or not. We’re changing the way we measure performance, the way we conduct conversations, and if done well, we’re changing our ability to align, engage, and execute for the better. In order to make that change happen, we have to begin to ingrain new habits into our culture: how we do things day in and day out. In other words, OKRs have to vie against the current habits we’ve built up over the entire time we’ve been in operation, and those typically run deep. Very deep. How do we begin to sew OKR or the Balanced Scorecard into the fabric of our organizations? Well, let’s return to me and my apple. If there had been apples on the reception desk, or if I’d had to walk past the buffet to get to the desk, the likelihood of me remembering to pick one up would have risen considerably. So, speaking metaphorically, we need to put the OKR or Balanced Scorecard apple in front of people to start building that habit.

Here are a few things you can do to start making strategy execution a healthy habit at your organization:

  1. Build on habits you already have
    Scientists call this “habit stacking,” adding a desired new habit to one you currently practice. For example, I’m pretty certain you have management meetings of some kind now. Take a portion of that time to discuss your new goals, or better yet, use those new goals to drive the meeting agenda.
  2. Make it easy for people to access their own, and others’, goals
    Don’t bury goals five levels down in some dusty, rarely used corporate intranet you last updated with meaningful information in 1998. Bring them front and center for all to see and discuss. There are many robust software platforms that make transparency and accessibility a breeze. Ensure your teams post their goals to a common repository so that review and analysis are simple for everyone. And don’t forget the old-school possibilities of poster-sized versions of your goals on office walls.
  3. Start small
    One key to successfully launching any new habit is establishing quick wins through realistic action. If you’re out of shape, you wouldn’t charge into the gym, throw 225 pounds on the bar and expect to press it a dozen times. Try that and you’d surrender after one doomed repetition. Instead, start with a reasonable goal you’re likely to achieve. In goals parlance this translates to a couple of things: Keep the number of goals small at the outset. Don’t burden yourself with too many. And, as noted above, make them aspirational but ultimately achievable.

They say you can’t compare apples and oranges, but I hope in this short article you’ve learned that you can compare apples and execution. If you want to succeed, keep the goals apple in front of everyone at all times, and before you know it, the habit will be in place.

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