Goals – Connecting Strategy and Execution

Goals: The Link Between Strategy and Execution

I hardly ever recommend webinars since they are a rather inefficient way to consume information, but sometimes good information is only available in that form…

This is a webinar by Donald Sull whose work I covered before. This piece is focused on the use of goals to drive effective strategy execution.

Don argues that goals drive strategy execution through 4 main mechanisms, each requires different “goal attributes” and presents different organizational pitfalls:

1. Improving individual performance:

  • Only a handful – focuses attention only on what matters the most; makes goals easy to remember; minimizes goal conflict
  • Non-conflicting – focuses attention and forces hard trade-offs
  • Concrete – allow measurement of progress
  • Ambitious – drive motivation to achieve and stretches people beyond their comfort zone
  • Feedback– enables mid-course correction as well as learning and improvement of capabilities

While most organizations do a pretty good job on the first three, there’s very high variation around setting ambitious goals (from organizations where almost 100% of the commitments are conservatives to organizations where almost 100% of the commitments are ambitious). A large majority of the organizations struggles with providing effective feedback, and the issues tend to concentrate more around the frequency of feedback being too low than the quality of feedback being too low.

2. Drive strategic alignment 

Defined as the extent to which individual activities and investments are aligned with the overall strategy.

  • Strategy is understood – you can’t align to something you don’t understand, forces strategy proficiency and the ability to connect strategy and team goals for managers
  • Co-created goals (created by the individual, ratified by the manager) – connects team and individual goals; surfaces and prompts discussion around challenges to achievement; verifies understanding; increases commitment to goals (autonomy).

The organizational challenges around this front seem to be concentrated primarily around ensuring the the strategy is understood.

3. Foster organizational agility

Defined as the organizations ability to react quickly to the changing industry dynamics and accelerating cycles of innovation.

  • Quarterly cadence – more frequent opportunities to respond to change; tighter coordination on a regular basis.
  • Key results – avoid conflating objective with measure; clear data helps identify what is not working; enables the org to confront problems rather than blame people
  • High ambition – encourage experimentation and learning; widen search beyond incremental improvements

In essence, the focus here is on more dynamic updating of the goals and doubling-down on two aspects that drive better individual performance. Organizations seem to be doing a mediocre job on implementing all three aspects.

4. Enable members of a networked organization self-organize their activities 

Successful execution of strategy typically requires tighter cross-functional efforts and effective cross-functional collaboration.

  • Transparent goals – increase clarity of strategy; drive employee engagement; surfaces and reduces duplication of effort; clarify key interdependencies across teams and units
  • Social goals – employee’s support one another’s work; spurs on-going discussion about goals and performance

This is the bleeding edge of goals science and two aspects of the “goals infrastructure” that are not wildly adopted. Yet.

Goals – Connecting Strategy and Execution

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