What separates perennial champions like the NFL’s New England Patriots and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors from the contenders?
It’s not necessarily the talent. Sure, both teams are led by future Hall-of-Famers. But the NFL and NBA are littered with stories of superstar “dream teams” that failed to live up to the hype.
And it’s not the money. The Patriots and Warriors both must work within the salary cap limitations of their leagues.
So what’s the difference?
Champions have a knack for getting the right people into the right positions. They bring players on board who are willing to make sacrifices to do the work that matters most to the team’s mission. These players “give up shots” and individual accolades to elevate the performance of the entire team.
As for the underperformers, they struggle to execute on a consistent basis. That's because despite having world-class talent, these teams get easily derailed by distractions and drama, marked by excessive complaining, finger-pointing, and political posturing, especially in the face of adversity. And the coaches are continually shuffling players and roles around but can't seem to find the right mix to achieve sustainable success.
Sound familiar? Ever been a part of a highly talented but dysfunctional team in your career that failed to live up to expectations? Or, perhaps, do you see this type of dysfunction going on in your own company today?
If your leadership team—and company as a whole—is underperforming, you don’t have to accept the status quo. As the leader, there are things you can do to change the dynamic and put your business on a new trajectory.
But how? How can you build your company into a championship-caliber team that puts distractions aside and executes at a consistently high level?
The answer is found in the practice of Attentiveness, the third of the "Great 8" leadership virtues from my book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership."
Business Outcome of Attentiveness: Execution
How does Execution relate to the practice of Attentiveness?
Before we answer that, let me provide some context. We introduced this three-part series on Attentiveness with the article, “Attentiveness: How High-Performing Teams Consistently Hit Their Targets." This article talked about how when employees have clear line-of-sight to the company's targets—and know what's expected of them to help reach that goal—they're better equipped to block out distractions, make good decisions, and focus their efforts to help the team succeed.
Then in the second article, “Productivity: How Great Leaders Get More Done to Make the Biggest Impact," we introduced the personal outcome of Attentiveness: Productivity.
The idea is that when we practice Attentiveness, we gain the ability to reduce the number of distractions and interruptions in our day so that we can focus on doing work that will make the most significant impact on our companies.
So, now, in the final article in this series, we introduce the business outcome of Attentiveness, which is Execution.
As Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan wrote in “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” “Organizations don’t execute unless the right people, individually and collectively, focus on the right details at the right time.”
And that’s the essence of Attentiveness: instilling the discipline in your team to “focus on the right details at the right time.”
The Application: Creating Systems for Consistent Follow-Through
But what exactly does Execution look like in real-world situations? What are the practical applications that you can begin incorporating into your organization?
At Legacy Advisory Partners, a common challenge we see when working with leadership teams is that their people don’t have clear line-of-sight to the company’s targets (which we discussed in detail in a previous article). As a result, they get easily distracted by tasks that may earn them individual recognition while neglecting the work that matters most for executing on the company’s mission.
"Line-of-sight" refers to an employee's ability to understand precisely what the objective is and how they, in their individual roles, can help the company reach that goal.
This is relevant to Execution because when team members have clear “line-of-sight” to the company’s targets and understand what their role or business unit is working towards, they’re less likely to get distracted by unproductive tasks, turf wars, and office politics that you often see with underperforming teams. Instead, they’re better equipped to put aside distractions and make smart decisions that help the team execute on its mission.
And this brings us back to the idea of developing your most important tasks (MITs). Once your team knows what the target is, what are the two to three MITs that they must do each week to help your company reach that goal?
(For examples and a detailed step-by-step process for developing MITs for yourself and your team, click here.)
- As a quick review, each MIT follows the “SMART Goal” format:
- Specific: Does the MIT represent a clearly defined deliverable?
- Measurable: Is it something we can measure so we can track progress?
- Attainable: Is it realistic?
- Relevant: Does it align with the company’s broader strategy?
- Time-Bound: What is the target time frame or deadline for the completion of the MIT?
For example, a sales rep might have an MIT like: "Make 20 ‘touches’ with new prospects by the end of the day Thursday of each week."
With this MIT, you have established markers and deadlines to follow up with regular checkups—perhaps weekly checkups—to track progress. This process not only helps hold the employee accountable to follow-through but it also promotes honest communication about potential bottlenecks that are keeping the rep from consistently completing their MITs.
Just as in a football game, things happen in the marketplace that may require “in-game” adjustments. And that’s the value of regular checkups. They allow for feedback and discussion to change course, as necessary.
“What are you seeing out there? What are some of the challenges holding you back?” Perhaps the sales rep has not able to complete the 20 “touches” the past couple weeks because of added administrative or project management tasks that have become a distraction and would be more appropriate for another staff member to work on.
When you put systems in place that help your team to clearly understand their goals, roles, and responsibilities with key performance metrics to track their progress, you will dramatically improve the likelihood that they’ll follow through and execute on their tasks.
To recap, here are the key takeaways on how you can apply the virtue of Attentiveness to build a championship-caliber team that consistently executes:
#1. Clarity. Do all team members have clear line-of-sight to the company’s financial targets?
#2. Commitment. What MITs have your team members committed to performing each week? In what ways and how often will they be held accountable for following through on those tasks? Then put systems in place to enable you and your team to track progress.
#3. Communication. Successful execution often requires adjusting to shifts in the marketplace. So, when it comes to your gameplan, you can’t merely “set it and forget it.” You need to communicate with your team on a consistent basis to learn what’s working and what’s not and adjust accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Execution requires relentless focus and discipline to avoid distractions and follow through on your most important tasks. And this demands that everyone, including the leadership team, is held accountable to do their part to achieve target results. Otherwise, you could have the best strategy, but nothing really ends up getting done.
As the Patriot’s long-time coach Bill Belichick has been known to preach to his players: “Do your job.” When you and everyone on your team does their job, following through on their unique roles and responsibilities, day-in and day-out, you will see a championship-caliber team emerge that’s ready, willing, and able to perform at the highest level.
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About the Author: J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.