Over the past week and a half, I’ve been thinking about the problems organizations face when attempting to achieve their most important initiatives. Time and time again, organizations spend a significant amount of time, money, and resources developing a plan they never fully execute or realize. While there are numerous reasons organizations struggle, as we have described on this blog before, I uncovered three additional factors to improve execution efforts. And these ideas didn’t come from the “rocket science” of strategy/execution, data analytics, or a higher power, but from a common scenario that many have faced themselves.
In early January, I posted an article likening planning to creating a new year’s resolution. Individuals, like organizations, struggle to execute and complete their new year’s resolution due to fundamental breakdowns in their execution process. They don’t keep their goal a priority, it’s difficult to monitor, and it’s the easiest task to push to the side when the whirlwind of day-to-day life hits.
However, I realized that, as we enter February, a different type of resolution individuals often make has a higher likelihood of success: a Lenten resolution. For those who don’t know, the season of “Lent” just began on Wednesday the 14th for many Christians around the world. Lent recognizes the 40 days leading up to Easter where individuals repent, fast, and prepare for the coming of Easter. One thing that many Christians today also do is make a personal sacrifice by choosing to give up something (e.g. fried food, soda, candy, etc.) or volunteer extra time during this period.
As I’ve seen in my own personal life, and the lives of friends and colleagues, I have typically been able to keep my Lenten promise, but never can seem to stick by my new year’s resolution. It was in my thought process this week that I finally realized why. What’s more is that I strongly believe these reasons can also influence the execution efforts for organizations of all shapes and sizes.
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Many people can follow through on their Lenten resolution because they know it will only take 40 days and they know exactly when they will be completed. Conversely, a new year’s resolution is often open-ended, enabling procrastination and indifference.
For an organizational plan, companies struggle because there is a lack of urgency. Everything is spanned out over the entire year, or is given too much time to complete, which enables individuals to prioritize other work ahead of plan execution. In order to be successful, break the plan down into bite-sized goals with appropriate deadlines. These intermittent goals and deadlines will result in an increased sense of urgency, and help people frame long-term goals in a more immediate time frame.
There’s no doubt that part of the reason individuals are successful during Lent is because of their purpose in pursuing the goal. Conversely, a new year’s resolution doesn’t always have a true connection outside of personal motivation, which can quickly deteriorate.
As I’ve discussed before, tying the organizational mission and vision to planning and execution is critically important. It gives people purpose – an understanding for “why” they are working on initiatives – and invests them in the planning and execution process with greater engagement.
Far too often individuals struggle with new year’s resolutions because they are too lofty. They want to be “healthier” or want to “procrastinate less.” Specific goals are established in very few cases, which limits the focus moving forward into the year. Individual Lenten promises are often much more specific and tangible, with crowd favorites relating to giving up a favorite food item (chocolate, alcohol, etc.) or mild addiction (social media, tv, etc.). By focusing on your goal and target, it become easier to see the finish line and realize success.
With your planning efforts, simplify your goals and tactics to enable focus. This increased focus will help prevent pushing the objective to the side due to confusion or apathy. Additionally, if you can tie it to something individuals and teams can relate to and understand on a personal or emotional level, you can invest them further in the goals you are reaching to achieve.
There are lessons that each and every one of us can take from our personal lives to help explain the disconnect between planning and execution. While we at AchieveIt help organizations execute at a higher level everyday, we are also individuals that, at times, struggle with the same elements of execution in our personal lives. By merging lessons from personal experience with business experience, the solutions for our problems are closer than we could ever expect.