Execution is about people, not strategy: 5 steps for aligning actions and behavior

As challenging as it may be to create a smart strategy, executing that strategy is exponentially harder. And a badly executed strategy, no matter how solid it may look on paper, is worthless, according to Peter Bregman, CEO of leadership consultancy Bregman Partners.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Mr. Bregman purports that organizations' biggest obstacle when it comes to change isn't strategic thinking, it's strategic acting. This is because there's a wide gap between strategy development and communication, which are about understanding something, and execution, which depends on doing something. Whether or not people do something — and how — depends on their behavior.

For the best results, people must be "hyperaligned and laser-focused on the highest-impact actions that will drive the organization's most important outcomes," Mr. Bregman wrote.

Here are five steps to align the organization's efforts, which Mr. Bregman dubs the "Big Arrow."

1. Define the Big Arrow. The first step involves creating a strategy and roadmap that has the support of the whole leadership team and will drive the organization toward its goal. The most important thing is deciding on the single most important outcome the strategy aims to achieve. Along with outcome clarity, it is essential to create behavioral clarity — identifying the most important behavior that is necessary for achieving the desired outcome, according to Mr. Bregman. He suggests doing this by stating the behavior that is most likely to impede success, then identifying the opposite.

2. Call out the highest-impact players. Once the Big Arrow has been determined, identify the people who are critical to achieving the goal. This is an important step, according to Mr. Bregman, because the organization should focus its efforts and resources on the people who will lead the drive toward achieving the Big Arrow. He suggests using the following questions to help pick out these people: Who wages the greatest influence in the organization? Who has the greatest ability to affect momentum of achieving the Big Arrow? Who has the largest effect on behavior?

3. Choose their focus areas. After identifying the key people, management should work with each person to determine what their primary contribution for moving the Big Arrow forward will be, one pivotal strength they possess and one critical "game changer," or something they could improve upon to increase their capacity to make their primary contribution. Essentially, instead of trying to increase forward momentum on all of their work, each key player should be laser focused on achieving this momentum on their one main contribution.

4. Engage in highly focused coaching sessions. Leaders often turn to coaching to remedy their flaws, but here, coaching should focus on addressing larger behavioral patterns that impair one's ability to make their key contribution to the Big Arrow.

5. Strengthen performance. Conversations during coaching sessions can help key players and leaders identify and address the biggest behavioral issues that serve as obstacles to the Big Arrow. For instance, coaching can help leaders devise the best methods for communicating priorities, handling a resistant employee, influencing people and how to say no to distractions, according to Mr. Bregman.

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