Going for Simple: 5 Ways to Achieve Better Results by Improving Execution

I’ve been coaching youth soccer for the past 18 years.  It’s one of the most rewarding things I do.  Watching the kids have fun and make progress over the course of a season is always worth the time. 

Soccer is supposed to be a simple game.  FIFA’s Laws of the Game – all 17 of them – govern the way it’s played around the world.  Or at least, the way it’s supposed to be played.  Add in people, though, and soccer isn’t quite so simple anymore. 

Just like in work life, each player comes to the team with different interests, ability, and commitment.  They also come with different levels of understanding and different reasons why they want to play.  And they come with families on the sidelines watching, cheering, and yelling their own ideas about what the kids should do.  Those barriers mean that the capacity of the team to progress is often down to the coach’s ability to teach, to focus, and to simplify. 

One successful youth coach had a fun way of handling the inevitable confusion he saw on the field.  He’d tell his team, “If you’re ever not sure what to do during a match, just kick the ball into our opponent’s goal and we’ll talk about it later.”  Essentially, the coach was telling his team what the single biggest priority was and simplifying the task at the same time. 

In business and in sports, the game plan or strategy may look good on paper but it’s irrelevant until it’s executed well.  And that all comes down to the people. 

For certain, none of this should come as a surprise.  Most readily acknowledge the importance of quality execution.  What may be more of a surprise is that many business leaders don’t have confidence in their organization’s ability to carry out a plan effectively. 

Here are some common obstacles to quality execution...

  • “We’ve always done it this way.”  Legacy systems, processes, ways of doing things.
  • “We’re already busy. What do you expect me to do?” Competing priorities.
  • “I can’t tell if this is really what they want us to do.” Lack of commitment by leadership. 
  • “I need help to do this but can’t get it.”  Lack of alignment of resources to strategies. 
  • “I don’t understand how this all fits together.”  Lack of clarity. 
  • “I’m trying to get things done but the ____ group is getting in the way.” Cross purposes. 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Think about your own situation. What factors do you think are influencing your company’s effectiveness?

Chances are, people have a lot to do with how your organization is faring.  Here are a few ways to help your company navigate to achieve better results through improved execution. 

  1. Be clear about your biggest goal, most important priority.  You can narrow that down with the following questions:
    1. What is the overarching goal of the organization? 
    2. What one or two things can we do within our group to impact that goal?
    3. At the end of the year, we will consider this a success if we achieve the following…
    4. If we get nothing else done, here’s what will make the most impact… 
  2. Establish the priorities and milestones that support that goal.  What elements will have the most impact on progress?  Who can make the biggest difference in that progress? 
  3. Line up resources (time, talent, treasure) behind those priorities.  What specifically must we commit to this goal in order to get it done?  Some organizations get trapped in just adding onto their list of things to do. At some point, that method almost always fails.  This question is especially important:  what are we not going to do?
  4. Determine measurable milestones and integrate them into work plans and performance reviews
  5. Communicate around the organization…and train the teams in how to execute. Ideally, these are on-going conversations that help guide teams in prioritizing their work and removing barriers to progress, on the fly. 

Effective execution requires doing things differently.  It requires that leaders to stay present and engaged in the process.  And it requires ongoing conversations in order to remove barriers.  Since so many organizations fall short in achieving their goals, the payoff for improving execution may be significant. 

Mike Irwin is a mentor, advisor, and strategist.  Drawing from his past as a startup co-founder/President, executive officer of a $1+ billion market cap company (WD-40), public company CFO, VP Marketing, global chief strategy officer, head of sales, and board member, Mike uses his diverse background to help companies grow sales, improve profitability, and scale up.  He serves as an advisor, consultant, fractional or interim CEO/GM/MD, and on boards of directors.   He’s also a community volunteer, youth sports coach, author, cyclist, and marathoner. Follow him at BottleRocketAdvisors.com, get in touch at mike@bottlerocketadvisors.com or connect on LinkedIn.