Three out of five executives feel that their organizations are weak when it comes to execution. They are probably right. Executing with precision takes time. Building execution as a core competency takes practice. That’s why intrapreneurs are so important. Execution is a key competency of intrapreneurs.
When organizations talk about execution, they are usually referring to operational execution that impacts near term results. When intrapreneurs talk about execution they are talking about innovation execution. Execution that has short term and longer-term implications.
Execution is a complex set of interrelated variables that must come together perfectly to achieve precision. Precision in execution begins with a clear understanding of the end goal and the intended business benefits. It requires clarity of vision, a process to get there, and the ability to deliver business value. It also requires having the right skills and expertise. The flexibility to make course corrections and manage shifting targets. A leader that has a 360-degree view of the world.
Execution is not an event but an integral part of the development process. It is an attitude, a competence, and a set of behaviors that motivate people to bring things to closure. It isn’t something you do at the end of a project but throughout a project.
The execution process starts when you first start exploring an opportunity. It might be a problem you are trying to solve or an unmet need you discover along the way that turns into an opportunity. The value of any opportunity is only as good as an organizations ability to execute on it successfully. The true measure of execution success is delivering value to customers and the organization.
Execution is a competency necessary to effectively leverage your organizations investments in innovation.
Here are some of things intrapreneurs and leaders do to execute with precision.
Clarity of Vision
Clarity of vision is essential when it comes to execution. Even if you think everyone understands the end game, they don’t. Each individual or group has their own interpretation. The individuals who originated the idea have one perspective, the team developing it has a different perspective, and the executives who funded the project have another. Not everyone sees what they need to see, and so it is up to the intrapreneur to bring clarity.
Getting to clarity is an ongoing process that requires open dialogue and discussion. A vision that seems clear to one person will represent something different to someone else. The vision is framed around a person’s mental model and what that vision means to them personally and professionally. They may see it for what they hope it will be, not for what it is. Getting a common understanding of the vision will be important in laying out the roadmap for implementing it.
Unfortunately, visions take on a life of their own. As the project evolves the vision will shift, and so will the process for getting there. Not until you move forward can you begin to see what the idea really is and what it can become. The original vision can morph into something bigger and bolder. Not everyone will see that the vision has changed or has become something different than originally envisioned.
A shift in vision can impact your implementation plans. Vision and execution need to be consistently aligned to incorporate this change in thinking. Small changes can seem inconsequential when they occur, but the compounding effect can have a huge impact on the project. It isn’t always the magnitude of the change that is important, it is the uncertainty of not knowing how a shift in vision might impact the project down the road. Intrapreneurs consistently keep everyone aware of these changes and reset expectations.
Clarity of vision is one end of the spectrum; execution is at the other.
A key factor in achieving precision in execution is having your customer strategy aligned with your execution capabilities. That requires having a clear understanding of the customer opportunity and the resources needed to deliver on that opportunity. It’s not just about what you are selling that matters, it is what the customer is buying that is important.
According to Rick McPartlin of the Revenue Game buyers are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and discerning in knowing what they want, how they want it and the value they want to get from your offer. Your offer can range from being unique to being a commodity. It may require a consultative sales approach or sales through a distribution channel. It may be sold based on price or value. You may need to sell one person or a group of individuals. Each type of buyer has their own information requirements. Understanding how the buyer buys is just as important as understanding how your organization goes about selling and delivering its offerings.
This situation is more difficult with Intrapreneurs because in many cases the opportunities they uncover do not always align to the capabilities of the organization. The systems and processes that support the core business may not support a new business model or a new sales and distribution model. The volume, speed or value at which existing products are sold may be different from those of low volume, higher value products. It is up to the Intrapreneur to close this gap.
Intrapreneurs do this by clearly defining the new offering and identifying areas where both manufacturing and service will support or fail in delivering on what the Revenue Game calls your organizations ‘brand promise’. Brand promise is the organizations commitment to its customers – best price, high value, speed, exceptional service, painless returns etc. Intrapreneurs effectively align the needs of the customer to the existing capabilities of the organization or they determine if those capabilities need to be tweaked, changed or replaced.
Alignment is the key to leveraging your organizations assets for greatest impact.
The goal of execution is to hit the target. This requires more than target practice. It requires having the right target in sight. The project itself will change as you integrate new ideas into it. Customers will begin to see more clearly what they really want as they see more of what you are building. New competitive offerings may impact your plans. Funding constraints and changing priorities may require changes to original plans. All these factors will impact your ultimate target.
Targets will shift and change many times during the duration of a project. To minimize these shifts, intrapreneurs test their assumptions with customers frequently, get them actively involved. Experiment with new ideas and integrate the feedback back into the development process. Evaluate the tradeoffs and determine what impact they will have on time lines, funding, and business value. They look at internal and external customer factors that could impact their plans. The more interaction they have with customers, the more accurate they will be in zeroing in on the target. Each time they tweak an aspect of the project it can change the target and move the bull’s eye.
New product ideas need to be tested and vetted in the markets they are intended to serve. It is not unusual for product development efforts to move ahead without rigorous market analysis or product concept testing. Initial targets are often selected without enough thought to other factors that can impact the idea down the road. Like evaluating an idea in terms of short-term interest versus longer-term viability. Understanding the ability of organizations to adopt and integrate the product idea into their organizations existing operations etc.
Establishing interim targets is a useful way to give everyone an opportunity to get target practice. Targets need to be threaded throughout the product development process. Targets can be established at key milestones or deliverables. Individuals should be motivated and measured on meeting interim targets. Target practice enables you to increase your execution skills. The more practice, the more adept you will be at hitting the target.
At the point when you freeze the project, you can lock in the target. Aligning the resources and development processes is easier when the end target is finally in sight.
Executing with precision is the real target.
Changing course is all part of the process. As you move forward you will find new ways to make it better, more focused on the target market, or more financially lucrative. Every change you make costs time and money and there is precious little of that to go around. A new direction means greater opportunities and new risks. Establishing criteria up front for managing change requests will enable you to deal with them more effectively when they arise. Incorporating these into plans will be important and will impact execution. Effectively managing changes will be the key.
Intrapreneurs are great at coming up with new ideas. Some of their ideas will have value, others will just waste time. If the changes don’t add value to customers and the bottom line, then it might be best to save them for the next phase. Each new idea or change creates a detour that you must manage effectively. You will need to decide to how to deal with these detours. Change requests are one of the biggest reasons for project delays and cost overruns because they directly impact timeline lines and costs.
Discipline is required to stick with original plans and incorporate changes that make sense. The fundamentals of the business and project plans must stay on track to preserve the integrity of the plan. Changes can create unseen problems down the road. You will not understand the real impact of these changes on your project until you are racing to meet the deadline. Determining which changes are necessary will be easier if you establish criteria for making changes and a process for evaluating the impact of those changes on current plans.
A change control process helps intrapreneurs minimize the impact these changes will have on their ability to execute.
A key to execution is having the right skill sets and competencies to drive things to closure. As the intrapreneurial leader, you will need three types of people on your team to be successful: creators, doers, and implementers. The creator is the person with the innovative ideas. The doers are task-oriented individuals. The implementers are the individuals who bring things to closure. This is a simplistic way to view your team, but all three of these roles are important when it comes to execution.
Creators may be easier to spot. These are the highly creative people. They are high on learning and love change. They are always looking for ways to do things better. They are big-picture thinkers and often can see the gestalt. They are independent and prefer to work in less structured environments. They can get bored easily and find it difficult to stay focused on the details because they are always thinking of the next idea. Creators develop the ideas that fuel innovation.
Doers are focused on achieving objectives. They understand the big picture and can get involved in the details when they need to. They are assertive and take responsibility for their actions. They have good communication skills and are effective in instructing others. They are not afraid to stand up to authority or challenge the status quo. They are less concerned about structure and organizational obstacles that get in the way. Doers are task-oriented and dedicated to their work.
Implementers are the individuals who make things happen. They know how to get things done or figure out how to get them done. They are goal-oriented, creative, and competitive. They have good planning and negotiating skills. They work well in high-pressure situations. They are good at taking the initiative, negotiating, and motivating others. They have the execution skills required to drive projects to completion. They don’t let anything get in their way. Implementers are high on closure.
Intrapreneurs use these simple descriptions as an initial filter when they are developing their team. They mentally separate their team into these three categories. Once you’ve done this, you may want to use a behavioral assessment tool to get a better understanding of individual styles and work practices. Execution requires having the ability and skills to establish and achieve challenging goals. Executing with precision requires leveraging individuals who excel at execution.
Execution is not something that you think about at the end of a project, but throughout the project and once you’ve delivered it. You can complete a project on time and on budget, but if it does not deliver the business benefits intended then it was not successful. Benefits are the business value you deliver to your customers and to the bottom line. They are also the value that is developed and delivered throughout the development process. Delivering business value is the ultimate end game.
Benefits are defined as the outcome to which you can assign expressions of value. An intrapreneurial initiative is developed to achieve a number of benefits. These include developing a new business, product, or service to generate new business growth, but may include others like institutionalizing project discipline, developing an entrepreneurial culture, or developing innovation as a core competency. These benefits do not happen by themselves. You will want to proactively identify and manage them throughout the process.
Benefits management provides a framework for identifying, capturing and realizing benefits throughout the product development process. Think of every step in the development process as an opportunity to deliver business value or benefits. You are looking for both internal and external value. Are you developing the product in the most cost-effective way? Are there other processes that can be used to expedite development? Are you leveraging your resources in the most efficient way? Looking at benefits from this perspective can have an impact on execution.
An information-based company that was building a new business used the opportunity to work with a new technology. On the surface, the business value was developing a new revenue stream for the company. Less well-known was the value of using this initiative to get the company up to speed with a new technology that could be leveraged in other parts of the organization. There was business value in making sure that the technology group had experience with the new technology. Leveraging the new technology created higher value for their clients, which translated into higher revenues for them.
Benefits management provides a framework for ensuring that investments get evaluated and deployed with a solid link to benefits. Each benefit that is achieved takes you to a higher level of value as the project moves forward. Proactively managing benefits can help you realize those benefits.
Execution requires operating with a 360-degree view of the world. If you have been to Disney World in Orlando, you may have visited the exhibit with the 360-degree theatre. You watch in amazement as the panoramic view of the country surrounds you with sights and sounds from every direction. You don’t know where to look for fear of missing something. You know that you will not capture everything.
As an intrapreneurial leader, you will live in this 360-degree world every day. You will serve many masters and be a slave to the project. You will need a strong desire to succeed. It will be impossible for you to know or get involved with everything. Eventually you will stop trying. You will be pulled in every direction at the same time. You will find yourself managing up, delegating down, collaborating across, and reaching outside to keep things moving. You will need to be strategic and tactical, competitive and collaborative, emphatic and hard-nosed. You will find yourself operating at both ends of the spectrum. You will feel like you are being torn in a million directions at the same time.
Thinking that you can hold everyone and everything in check will be impossible. There aren’t enough hours in the day nor is there enough bandwidth in your brain to deal with every detail. Tradeoffs will have to be made. You will have to focus on high-priority issues. Leave the detail work to those who are better able to handle it.
Execution requires staying focused on the end goal and letting go of traditional ways of operating. You may not have the time or energy to effectively manage the political environment, stay connected with peers, or even keep yourself visible with senior management. You will find yourself totally committed to meeting your objectives. You may find yourself picking up the slack or having to push the team outside their comfort zone. It can cost you politically and professionally, but it may be the only way for you to hit the target.
The ups and downs of an intrapreneurial initiative can be extremely taxing on the leader and the team. Even when everyone is physically exhausted, once the team can see the end in sight, they will put every ounce of energy into finishing the project. As a leader, you must exhibit that same desire and determination. That may be all that is left to carry you across the finish line.
Executing with precision takes a leader who can effectively operate in a 360-degree world.
Execution is all about alignment. It is the alignment of the vision, resources, the development process, project changes, and customer requirements. Having a clear understanding of the end goal and the ability to deliver business value. Taking the time to test and refine the idea. The discipline to change course when it is necessary. Leveraging the skills and capabilities of the team. Getting all the pieces to come together in a coordinated and timely fashion.
Developing execution as a core competency can make the difference in getting the project done on time, on budget, with the intended business results. The true measure of execution success is delivering value to customers and the organization. Value that is sustainable in the short term and longer term.
Hitting the target is one thing, hitting the bull’s eye is what counts. Executing with precision takes time and practice. As in intrapreneur or leader it is time well spent.