1. Performance: The Intersection of Strategy & Execution
Updated: Mar 26
What makes the performance of a company or an organization good or bad? Performance descriptors like high or low, great or terrible, amazing or awful, are easy to toss around. By choosing words on the ‘good-to-bad’ spectrum as prefixes to ‘performance’ we make powerful, consequential statements, regardless of how subjective or objective the assertion is.
Determining how companies achieve performance success is often more meaningful and complicated than the judgment itself. Large investments of time, money and effort are made in the pursuit of high performance. The problem is, most of the time these investments are made in surface-level adjustments rather than root-cause-driven systemic analysis or change.
In dissecting performance, the level of achievement attained is a result of how well a company navigates the key intersections that lead to performance. If these intersections are navigated successfully there is a higher probability of good performance.
What is the Performance Intersection?
Performance itself is the intersection of strategy and execution (see Intersection 1 graphic below). This shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, good strategy paired with good execution probably results in good performance. The point here though isn’t to surprise, rather to remind and reinforce. Equally as important is the flipside, where bad strategy paired with bad execution is a recipe bad performance.
Intersection 1: Performance = Strategy + Execution
Successful leaders find ways to optimize performance since it’s rarely, if ever, possible to guarantee it. Optimization means setting the company up for success. As simple as that sounds, it’s hard to do. I’m constantly amazed at how little thought is put into what it means to set an individual, a team or the company up for success.
Set Up For Success
Success is a process. It starts with individuals, moves to teams and then on to the entire organization. However, many times leaders inadvertently undermine their own success by focusing on the team first and assuming individuals will catch-up or adapt. Rarely do I see leaders intentionally focused on what success means at the individual team member level as a starting point.
Commonly what I hear is a list of the tasks each team member is responsible for and some statement about the degree to which the leader believes the team member can deliver. It’s a paradigm where the expectation is that once an individual has his or her to-do list, he or she should be able to figure everything out from there and perform, because “we’re all slammed all the time, so there isn’t time for hand-holding”.
Is a Culture of Success Being Created?
Much like a resume that only lists responsibilities and not accomplishments, team members relegated simply to task ownership rather than quantifiable, meaningful contributions, will underwhelm and underperform. This creates another barrier to a success culture, which is that team members don’t understand how their day-to-day tactical execution ties to the corporate strategy or even the purpose of the company.
In my experience this happens because an assumption permeates from the top down that people will function at full value-adding capacity just because it’s expected. This is one of those “The buck stops here” scenarios where the deliberate practice of setting each individual and each team up for success must be embraced by senior leadership and communicated throughout the organization.
To truly make a significant impact on company-wide performance there must be a mindset at all levels that in order to be successful, “I need to make sure those below me are successful and those above me are successful”. This perspective promotes a more embraceable view of 1) What needs to be done, 2) How it needs to be done and 3) Why it needs to be done.
What Can Leaders Do?
As leaders we are regularly confronted with factors we can control as well as those we can’t. The success of those on our teams is something that can be controlled to a greater extent than many leaders realize. It requires time and effort, which are scarce resources. The irony is that as a leader you’ll waste more time and effort dealing with an under-optimized team in the long run, than if you take the time to create a success culture from the beginning.
Success is based on how each individual handles the data, decisions and relationships required to do their job. Leaders must:
* Equip team members with data
* Empower team members with relationships, and
* Provide team members with the autonomy to make decisions.
One of the sayings I used to hear from my maternal grandfather was, “If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.” He wasn’t the originator of the quote, but the lesson is applicable when it comes to the performance of individuals and teams. If, as a leader, you focus on the performance of each individual, the performance of the team will take care of itself. Roll that up one more level and the performance of the company will be on the right path if each team is performing well.
Wrap Up & Up Next
There are no guarantees when it comes to performance, and that’s why we focus on optimization rather than the naïveté of assuming certainty. There are always going to be external factors, most of which are predictably unpredictable, that add uncertainty and can only be mitigated, not completely resolved.
If the company culture is such that it allows leaders the freedom (and encourages them) to set the individuals on their teams, and thereby the teams themselves, up for success, the road to optimizing performance via strategy plus execution is much more traversable.
Next time we’ll examine the 2nd intersection in more detail, which is the Strategy Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.