Successful Systems

By Paul B. Brown  |  Posted 06-17-2002 Print Email

Successful Systems

Once you've put the right people in place, you have to put in a companywide system that encourages execution—and penalizes failure. The system is made up in part of agreeing on goals ahead of time, making sure there are resources and coaching available to achieve those goals, and accountability. Let's take them one at a time.

People want to know how they are going to be judged. And they should. I sit down with each of my direct reports—the CIO, for instance—at the beginning of the year, and he puts down some goals and objectives. He'll make the first pass at that. Then I'll look at those goals and objectives, and I may change them, modify them, and then we have iteration. When it's complete, we both sign it, and then at the end of the year I measure him against the completion of what is written down.

This is an extremely important part of making sure things get done. We want to get down goals that are fair and honest, and ones he can reach. I think I have a pretty good handle on what's supposed to get done. I don't want him to have goals that are unrealistic and can't be attained.

And we make those goals very specific. For example, this year our CIO has a major digitization challenge. In other words, we're trying to get rid of all the paper. So we're very specific about what his goals are—we want to eliminate half the paperwork companywide by this date, and all of it by that one. And I'll make sure he will have enough time, people and money to get the job done. (Remember, we both agreed to this upfront.) And then I'll sit down with him during the year and see how he's doing against those goals. If he isn't going to make it, I want to know beforehand and see if I can help him.

Can I teach you to execute better? Yes, if you want to learn. I can give you a discipline that would make you improve if you were to follow it. The discipline involves the same six principles I use to try to do a better job: Know your people and your business, insist on realism, set clear goals and priorities, reward the doers, expand people's capabilities through productive dialogue, and know yourself. And I would help you through each of the steps by showing you, for example, exactly how to insist on realism.

Here's one way. You never accept a personal evaluation—we call them management resource reviews—in which someone says one of his direct reports is doing "wonderfully," and under the heading of Development Needs he puts "none." Who is this manager kidding? Even Michael Jordan has some development needs. How can a leader help a person when he tells her she has no development needs?

Would my coaching make you the best ever, when it came to execution? No. Would it make you better at it than you are now? Yes. You know, what people do at the end of the day is basically what they want to do. And if people find that leading an organization or concentrating on execution is a bore, they're not going to do as well at it as they are at something they have a higher level of interest in. So coaching can only take you so far.

But the bigger point is that there is a clear identification of what the performance goals are, and therefore what the execution requirements are. The targets are laid down against a vocabulary that everybody shares. And I think that's the key here.

And one of the goals you are definitely going to be judged on is how many people you develop. You're supposed to be identifying people with potential, you're supposed to be giving them growth opportunities, you're supposed to be working with them on development needs. Whether you do these things will determine in large part how far you go in the organization.


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