Successfully Execute Their Strategies (and Why Connectedness Is the Key)
Some 87 percent of businesses fail to execute their strategy each year. Author and consultant Dan Prosser explains why—and offers eight startling insights into human interaction, the hidden forces that drive leaders, and the astonishing power of the conversations we enable and nurture.
It happens again and again. You come up with a viable strategy that you believe will “fix” your ailing company. You hold lots of employee meetings to talk about it. Maybe you leave fired up with enthusiasm, or maybe you harbor a nagging sense of doubt—worried that perhaps you just have the wrong people. It doesn’t seem to matter. As the weeks grow into months, you realize that—once again—what needs to get done just isn’t getting done. And damned if you can figure out why.
You’re not alone says Daniel F. Prosser. At least 87 percent of companies fail to execute their strategy each year. And the problem that lies at the heart of all their challenges may surprise you: disconnectedness.
“I truly believe that of all the factors that impact the success of businesses, connectedness is the one element missing in most of today’s organizations,” says Prosser, author of THIRTEENERS : Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy—and How Yours Can Be One of Them. “If today’s leaders actually focused on building the connectedness they and their employees crave, they would see a many-fold increase in performance and bottom-line results.”
In THIRTEENERS, he explains how to push your company into the 13 percent of those that successfully create and nurture those vital connections and are regularly featured on Best Places to Work lists. At these organizations, leaders are connected to employees, employees to each other, and everyone to the organization’s vision and marketplace. The book explains how they get it right and how you can do it also.
“As command-and-control management styles have become a thing of the past, the importance of connectedness has skyrocketed,” says Prosser. “Today, every company’s competitive advantage derives from how well they can innovate. Employees have to feel safe to share their ideas. Colleagues need to be able to work together to develop and modify those ideas. And no one can get there without connectedness.”
Here are some of the book’s insights:
Business is actually a network of interrelated conversations. Prosser writes about his introduction to the work of University of Houston researcher Dr. Brené Brown. Her principal message is this: If you want an organization that produces breakthrough results, you must confidently lead the conversations that will bring connectedness to your company and give real meaning to the work your employees are doing.
Employees are infected by hidden conversations that, together, add up to the “Execution Virus.” The greatest challenges in business today are these unseen obstacles—the limiting and negative viral conversations that infect your vision, your mission, and the strategy you’re trying to execute right now. They undermine and sabotage individual and team performance.
In THIRTEENERS, Prosser presents 10 conversations that regularly disrupt performance, feeding the “Execution Virus.” For example, when your employees regularly say, “It’s not our strategy,” what they are really communicating is that they feel they have no say in the direction of the company. As a result, they aren’t engaged. Or if “We’ve always done it this way” is a common mantra, it usually indicates that people are trapped in old paradigms, unable to take action to move the business forward.
We settle for hoping when we should be declaring. There is no integrity in hope, says Prosser. Hoping is the antithesis of using the power of language to make bold declarations that enable bold action. Hope limits what employees are able to achieve. Instead, you must be willing to step up and say how you’re going to win. This actually invents a conversation that says, “This is how it is right now.” Then you’ll work your butt off to close the gap between what you said and where you are the moment you say it.
Connectedness can’t happen when leaders “play it safe.” Not all leaders have the courage it takes to walk into a meeting and engage others in an authentic inquiry to uncover real solutions. Instead, they choose to play it safe. When they hear an employee 20 or 30 years their junior offer a valuable insight that wasn’t even on their radar, they go into self-preservation mode. They say, “That’s not how we do it around here,” or, “That’s not good enough.” But comments like this disconnect the organization from you and employees from each other.
“To be a THIRTEENER requires real leadership,” says Prosser. “Real leaders are willing to ‘lead out loud.’ This means displaying vulnerability and asking for and accepting input from your employees so that everyone can contribute to and ‘own’ the company’s strategy for the future. For many leaders it’s scary to let employees see that you don’t have all the answers, but if you want them to commit to making your organization unstoppable, it’s critical.”
If you think you have all the answers, you’re only pretending to lead. The predominant myth in business (and elsewhere) is that to be a leader people will follow, you must already “know” the answers or come with ready-made solutions to the most vexing problems your organization faces. If you believe this, you’re not leading, but pretending. And when you pretend to lead, you’re covering up something that’s missing—something that could ultimately cause you to fail.
Patriarchy destroys connectedness. You may think your company is not patriarchal, but chances are it is to some degree. And while the word might conjure up a dour-faced man with a long white beard sitting on a mountaintop, men and women alike are guilty of perpetuating a patriarchal style of management. Unfortunately, it creates a class divide: them and us/me, and as a result, erodes connectedness.
“The idea that each employee has something of value to contribute is missing from a patriarchal system,” explains Prosser. “Employees are never allowed to be their fully human selves; instead, a leader’s ego is inflated by marginalizing others.
Trying too hard to avoid failure actually leads to failure. Prosser explains in his book that 87 percent of all companies with a strategic plan will fail to execute it. One factor that contributes to their inability to execute is a reservation to set big—or, as Prosser calls them, “unreasonable”— goals. Many business owners opt to play it safe by setting reasonable goals in an effort to avoid failure.
Embracing chaos is better than clinging to equilibrium. The fundamental reason why so few teams don’t make it to the finish line and execute their strategy is that leaders can’t tolerate the discomfort that comes with the chaos when things aren’t happening as planned. They can’t stay the course and wait for the source of the breakdown to reveal itself. They feel the need to act, to do something to overcome the sense of being out of control. Instead of just accepting that disequilibrium is natural, most leaders want to look for a way to create the pretense of balance.
“To create an organization of innovation and creativity, you need to allow and even introduce the tension that comes with or causes chaos,” says Prosser. “Systems that are out of equilibrium are forced to explore their space of possibilities, and this leads to new patterns of relationships and structures. An organization that embraces chaos is healthier than one that hangs on to equilibrium, and it can achieve a new level of performance.”
“If you’re a CEO or senior business leader with the potential for impacting the lives of others, you need to become deeply interested in the role you play in driving connectedness into your organization,” says Prosser. “You need to learn about how connectedness, and the lack of it, shapes your employees’ workplace experience and ultimately leads to the successful execution of your vision.
“Connectedness even plays a key role in the primary design of your strategy—even before you have a chance to take action on it,” he concludes. “The extent to which you can create and nurture it directly correlates to the likelihood of your company becoming a THIRTEENER.”
About the Author:
Dan Prosser is author of THIRTEENERS : Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy—and How Yours Can Be One of Them. As CEO of The Prosser Group and BreakthroughSchool.com, he has over 45 years’ experience building his own companies, while for the past 13 years, he has been speaking; teaching; mentoring; and coaching business leaders, entrepreneurs, and micropreneurs to cultivate an uncommon and breakthrough approach to helping people build an extraordinary competitive edge for their businesses. For more information, please visit www.thirteenersbook.com .