The Four Big Challenges
For many years, I’ve been working for an organization that brings together CEOs, presidents, and key employees at non-competitive companies for a monthly roundtable meeting to help each other with their businesses. In the morning, a guest speaker addresses some critical business areas for the first few hours. In the afternoon, these high-level executives, most running companies between $2 million and $50 million, discuss how they will hold each other accountable for implementing the ideas they have learned. I’ve enjoyed presenting classes on strategic thinking and business excellence to almost nine hundred senior executives through this work. At the end of each session, I ask the group the same question: “What are the four biggest issues you are dealing with in your company?”
As they share their answers, I am always amazed because just about all of them say they are struggling with the same four fundamental issues.
1. Communicating vision.
The lack of a vivid, compelling, and well-communicated vision and strategy for growth is a significant problem for many organizations. Although the senior management might have a good handle on these things, if you asked someone two levels down in the organization what the vision is, they can rarely explain it. The president of one company asked me, “When do you know you have communicated the vision well enough?” I told him that when you have said it so many times, you are getting sick to your stomach; the lowest person in your organization just heard it for the first time. It is impossible to overcommunicate your business’s vision, mission, values, and strategy.
2. Openly addressing challenges.
You cannot fix a problem if nobody knows about it. It is essential to create an atmosphere of psychological safety where people feel comfortable having difficult conversations. Employees need to know that they can voice their opinion or deliver bad news without fear of retribution. The best way to engender this feeling is for the senior management team to eagerly support team members willing to give them the hard truth.
3. Enabling mediocrity.
When I lead a class of senior executives, I will often say, “I’d like you to picture the lowest-performing person in your entire organization.” And then I tell them, “Now realize that that person sets the standard of excellence for your entire business. By keeping that person on the team you tell everyone else that that level of performance is acceptable.” Once your organization tolerates mediocrity, it will become a magnate for mediocre people.
4. Following through on plans.
I’ve been teaching a senior executive class on strategy as a guest lecturer at the Wharton School of Business for more than 20 years. Each year I ask my students, “What percentage of companies with a good product, talented people, and a solid strategy effectively execute that strategy?” The answer has been a consistent 5 to 10%. Therefore, a lack of disciplined execution and accountability is the single most significant problem I see in companies I work with worldwide. There is not a lack of intelligent people, but there is a severe shortage of people who can take ideas and turn them into action in the marketplace.
I strongly suggest that you invest a few minutes and reflect on whether your organization suffers from any of the above issues. If so, that’s a great place to start focusing your energy, time, and money to get the business back on track.
If you want to get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you. Please visit my site at https://johnspence.com/contact/ and let me know how I can help.