The senior leaders in your organisation have worked long and hard over the past six months to develop a strategic plan for the next five years. It’s a cracker! And your entire senior leadership team is on board and excited. If you can pull this off, the market-share and profit benefits will ensure the sustainability of the company in the longer term.

Your people have been waiting for the big launch. You’ve been priming them, letting them know that the change is coming, and it’s a change that has to happen if you are to remain competitive.

The big launch occurs.

After the initial excitement and some early energetic activity, you start to sense resistance at the middle-management level. The behavioural change needed to support the new strategy is simply not happening.

This is the situation I see so often when I am called in at the crisis point to help support the implementation leadership team (those tasked with executing the strategy, not creating it) to embark upon and survive the much longer implementation period.

Whether your organisation can successfully execute the plan depends on the leadership capability of your middle managers, yet this level is where strategy is most often blocked.

It’s like pouring water through a filter. The quality of the water that comes out the other end depends on the quality of the filter. If you have invested in a high-quality filter it will deliver the desired outcome: clean, toxin-free water. If the filter does not function properly, the water quality will be average at best. If the filter blocks up, then forget it. Muddy seepage will be the best you can hope for!

Organisations invest heavily in leadership support and mentoring for executive leaders, forgetting that the bulk of leadership work occurs at lower levels within the organisation.

Your middle managers are the meat in the sandwich, dealing with pressure from two directions. They are expected to communicate and implement the directives from above (often with limited notice or insufficient depth of understanding), while dealing with the natural resistance to change coming from below. They are expected to answer all the tricky questions when they have had limited time to reflect and develop a deep understanding of what is being asked of the organisation. And they are still coming to terms with what it means for them personally.

To increase the execution capability of your organisation, you must invest in developing exceptional leadership capability in your leadership execution team (your middle managers). Do this well before they are required to roll out a strategy or new direction. And do it properly. A series of one-day workshops simply won’t cut it!

3 ways to enable execution

 

  1. Provide the opportunity for buy-in to the strategy

    Buy-in is not something you can create. It is a choice your managers make. In the same way that you make a choice to buy a product or service, your managers will choose to buy into your company strategy.

  2. Buy-in is emotional and is increased when individuals can connect the strategy to their own ways of thinking.

    Good facilitators, coaches and mentors can support the conversations that connect these leaders to their version of the strategy, allowing them to own the implementation rather than just blindly do it.

  3. Invest in the development of exceptional self-leadership and people leadership skills

    Managers’ capacity to be objective, to coach and support their staff through change, as well as to understand, accept and work with the imperfect, unpredictable and threatened people in their care while exhibiting exceptional self-control, will be critical for success.

  4. Support middle managers to think through and develop their own strategies to implement the strategy

    Senior leaders have lived the evolution and iterations of the strategy, so it makes sense to them. Middle managers need to be given the support to help it all make sense to them and develop their own implementation strategies.