Facta, non verba – deeds, not words – is a tried and tested saying that remains highly relevant for today’s business leaders. While aspirational goals and a clear vision are business imperatives, a leader’s vision needs to translate into action swiftly to remain competitive and move business forward.
There is great value in defining strategic direction and goals. However, turning ideas into reality requires much more than conjuring up an excellent vision. Some leaders excel at ideation, but modern successful business leaders need to execute and be results-driven: ‘doing’ more than dreaming.
Research shows that many leaders have ambitious goals for their businesses but often fall short in the execution and implementation phases. In fact, around 85% of companies fail to execute their strategies.
However, companies that are successful in executing strategies achieve outstanding results. They generally increase revenue by 80–120% in a three-year period, translating into a solid financial return. A recent study demonstrated that 70% of companies with formal and established processes of strategy execution outperform their competitors.
These organisations are also eight times more likely to rely on technological solutions to automate processes such as budget preparation, financial reports and forecasts. In turn, this provides them with a greater adaptation capacity of their internal processes.
When turning a vision into something tangible, leaders need to consider the landscape around them, including digital transformation, data analytics and, most importantly, people.
Digital transformation is changing the world at a rapid pace; leaders must be willing to keep up with innovation or risk being left behind. Data drives all the worlds’ processes and can give leaders a critical edge. This is especially valuable in achieving the ‘always-on’ ideal, enabled by clever use of predictive analytics integrated into existing workflows.
However, people remain at the centre of businesses, bringing both digital and data together into efficient execution. In this age of digitisation, the real ‘killer app’ for turning vision into reality is still people. Engaging people, enabling them to change workplace behaviours and energising your culture still matters more than all the improvements to processes, data analysis and management operating systems.
When assessing an organisation, many change-management researchers don’t observe what happens at the coalface or get to know the frontline operations.
However, the frontline is where work happens, day-to-day decisions get made and results are achieved. Experience has taught me that successful transformations must happen at every level – from the C-suite to the production line.
Each leader needs to be prepared to routinely put on their safety gear, get their hands dirty, walk the floor and really understand what’s working and what needs to change. This is about checking in, not checking up.
Here are five characteristics leaders need to adopt to be the kind of leader that can act on their vision:
- Being execution-driven. An active leader must also be an execution-driver, who will enable and encourage others to build on their capabilities and achieve great things. They have the energy and enthusiasm to execute dynamic strategic goals and encourage real communication, collaboration and teamwork to maximise effectiveness. Executing defined objectives and promoting engagement can drive successful, impactful outcomes.
- Taking risks and being courageous. You’ll need to make smart decisions at speed and be comfortable and decisive in the face of ambiguity. Taking risks and making difficult decisions requires leaders to step out of their comfort zones, accepting their own vulnerability. As per Harry Jansen Kraemer’s book titled From Values to Actions, leaders need to focus on people and set direction, so that changes can be made with purpose.
- Taking ownership. People at every level in an organisation need ownership over their roles. Leaders need to gain trust and enable people to collaborate within their business. That means a leadership style focusing on connecting with people, encouraging them to look, listen and learn, while giving employees the skills and authority to remove roadblocks to success.
- Nurturing ideas. When your company is in its ideation phase, treat it like an innovation centre. Look upon ideas being generated by your people as you would those coming out of an innovation hub. Leverage the unique input of all expertise on your team, rather than driving strategy yourself. This allows leaders to gain buy-in across the organisation with the concept that “this is how we create change in our business”, leading to results. This is how you bring about ‘ideas worth implementing’.
- Think bigger yet stay focused. What if you could create a movement in your organisation around execution and doing? Develop a culture where people work together for a common purpose to produce extraordinary outcomes. This can lead to transformation of not just your company but across whole communities, taking advantage of tomorrow’s business, economic and social opportunities.
Bringing a vision to fruition requires action from leaders – the ability to first turn vision into verbs. With a well-orchestrated implementation plan, a focus on people and the right skills, you can achieve the results your vision was built for.
Leadership is based on relationships, emotional connections, authenticity, growth, commitment, trustworthiness and the desire to improve; it comes from both the head and the heart. To be an effective leader, all six competency components need to be activated to drive business successes.