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Strategy Execution Falling Short? Check Your Follow-up/Follow-through


Why do your kids often not do their homework or clean their rooms after you’ve asked them “hundreds” of times? Do you ever get frustrated when team members fail to complete tasks on-time? For that matter, how often do you find yourself wondering about the status of a project and how close a team member is to completing his/her assignment? In every case, the failure is due to the failure to establish and execute Follow-up and Follow-through. That’s the reason, we’ve made Follow-up/Follow-through the last of 7 factors that drive Strategy-to-Execution (S2X™).  As one leader told us, “Follow-up/Follow-through is the most critical step in the process, and we stink at it.” When done well, Follow-up/Follow-through:

  • Shifts responsibility for both performance and accounting for that performance from the leaders to the performers;

  • Generates learning about the overall execution effort;

  • Creates accountability for delivering results;

  • Frees up leaders’ time that is otherwise spent tracking people down or wondering what the heck is going on;

  • Provides a powerful platform for effective coaching.

Focus on Learning… Obviously, creating accountability is important. Often, however, when we discuss Follow-up/Follow-through, that’s where all the attention goes. The Focus on Learning embedded in effective Follow-up/Follow-through is at least as important. We start with this belief: by and large, people come to work every day trying to do their best. So, why does performance ever come up short? For dozens of reasons, most of which are integrated into the S2X™ framework:

  • Maybe they are unclear on their goals, or the goals are poorly defined. Remember what happens when we play 5-on-5?

  • Maybe the performer doesn’t have the capabilities necessary to effectively execute his/her Performance Drivers.

  • Or, as we discussed here, maybe there is misalignment in the architecture that punishes doing the right thing or rewards unproductive work.

Approaching Follow-up/Follow-through from a learning mindset allows those issues to bubble to the surface. If the objective is just to create accountability, then factors like those might be missed. We end up with the classic control-accountability mismatch: We’re holding performers accountable for performance in which they are, at best, only partially in control of the outcomes. Wells-Fargo Melt-Down: A Failure of Learning The Wells-Fargo sales scandal, was partly a failure of “learning” versus accountability. (We say “partly” because it was also a massive failure of leadership from executive levels all the way through the organization.) It’s well known within the banking industry that customers are more profitable when they have more products with a financial institution. So, it’s not surprising that Wells-Fargo, and many other banks, would set goals for account penetration, i.e., selling more products to each customer. Some Wells-Fargo leaders at virtually every level of the organization held their team members ruthlessly accountable for selling products – including threatening them with the loss of their jobs if they didn’t hit their sales goals — even if it meant “selling” them to customers who didn’t need or want them. Had the focus been on learning…

  • Which customers will buy additional products? Which ones won’t? Why not?

  • What, if anything, needs to change about the products we’re selling to be more marketable?

  • What other customers might actually want these products?

…much of the disaster might have been avoided. So, “learning” through the Follow-up/Follow-through process must come first, while you must also… …Create Accountability “Accountability” is not a bad word! Yet, the word has earned a negative connotation to many people who may have experienced being “held accountable,” which means they got their ass kicked for something that might have been outside their control. In that sense, yeah, “accountability” is not fun! (Nor productive). But, when there is no accountability, it means that performance, and/or your values, don’t matter. That is one of the most disrespectful thing we can do to high performers. Left unchecked, it can create a downward spiral in performance.… “If results don’t matter, because that dude over there hasn’t done a lick of work in months, then why should I bust my tail to perform?” Lack of accountability kills team member engagement. And, unfortunately, lack of accountability is far more prevalent than it ought to be. Done well, though, Follow-up/Follow-through does more than “create accountability.” It allows people to “be accountable” versus “being held accountable” by their leaders. This is subtle, but critical. In high engagement environments, people are responsible and accountable for their results. As one phenomenal leader we know says to all the new team members in his organization, “Own your results.” Then, he and all the leaders in his organization ensure people can truly own their results and be accountable for them. Effective Follow-up/Follow-through helps create ownership:

  • Leaders and performers mutually agree upon the Follow-up/Follow-through frequency or cycle time (more on that in future posts)

  • Performers are responsible for setting the specific Follow-up time on their manager’s calendar – or short-circuiting the agreed upon cycle if they hit a stumbling block; and, then,

  • The Performer is responsible for leading the conversation about what the goals are, what performance has looked like since the last conversation, what caused any performance gaps and what the plan is moving forward to lift performance to a higher level or close any performance gaps.

What do you think?

  • How consistent is the Follow-up/Follow-through process within your organization?

  • How often do commitments fade into oblivion and you find yourself wondering “whatever happened to that goal or commitment or project?”

  • How well does your Follow-up/Follow-through process focus on Learning, versus exclusively on creating accountability?

  • To what extent are people “Accountable” versus being “Held Accountable?”

Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.

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