As Commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McCrystal was in the business of creating strategies that worked. But in his appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, he confessed the true difficulty is not only in creating a strategy, but in getting BUY IN.
Coming from a general where subordinates are expected to repeat orders and execute, this might sound surprising, even disturbing. In a classic command and control environment, you’d think it would be easier. But as the general explained, execution is extremely difficult, regardless of how much positional authority you possess, and it requires contagious leadership.
Here are three points that will help you as a leader evaluate how you are doing in moving from strategy to true BUY IN. Let’s call it the A-B-C's of passionate execution.
A: Articulate the Strategy: You must continually articulate the purpose of the company, the values you stand for, and the strategy you are pursuing to achieve your purpose. In some cases a key part of the strategy itself may be all about supporting the culture you seek to develop and the core values undergirding it. Stan Bergman, the CEO of Henry Schein, a $9 billion dental equipment and services company, says that in many ways Henry Shein's culture is their core strategy. They refer to it as Team Shein. Stan visits over 140 locations a year talking about the Team Shein culture of respect, cooperation, and service, which is fundamental to the way Henry Shein serves a local dental practice. Stan also lives the values, - he walks the talk - so his words actually articulate his actions.
B. Believe It: You must demonstrate a soulish integrity that communicates, "I truly believe this is our future and we will win if we embrace our strategy." In some cases, the best strategy is adaptability, so a leader can communicate, "This is the direction we are pursuing, and as we learn we will adapt." In other cases, the leader can be certain that the strategy articulated is the strategy believed. Why? Because it has been time tested, the company has continuous feedback loops, and the entire company is modeling the purpose and strategy. I saw this in a large homebuilding company that delivers over 1200 homes across a 2000 mile span of territory. As the president of the company, Dennis Murphy, said to me, "Opportunity follows strategy. Strategy does not follow opportunity." What he meant by this is that just because the company saw a new opportunity, it did not mean in any uncertain terms they were going to follow that opportunity. The strategy had been time tested over years and the hard part now was sticking to the strategy and executing against it. New opportunities were actually distractions to be avoided if they did not fit within the basic strategic framework of the company’s purpose.
C. Community Owns It: In today’s world of knowledge workers, we don't just have hands that go out to implement our ideas. We need hearts and heads to embrace our strategy, share it with others, and work on living it out in all of their thinking. A strategy not owned by the community of stakeholders responsible for realizing the results is only a document in Drop Box and nothing more. It must be a living document, owned by the community of all stakeholders, including each and every one of your employees, your suppliers, your shareholders, your customers, and the community you serve. When a community of stakeholders owns the strategy, you know you are winning. John Walsh, the CEO of UGI, a multi billion dollar energy company in Pennsylvania, told me he knew their strategy of uninterrupted service to customers was working when the drivers of propane trucks were telling heroic stories of how they delivered propane gas through some of the worst snow storms ever recorded. They were proud of what they had done and they pulled a team together to make it happen. These drivers could articulate the strategy, they believed it, and they owned it.
The A-B-C's of strategy appear simple. However, if you are in a leadership role, you know there are a thousand different ways you can mess it up. Thus, the need to stay focused on the basics and keep asking, Have I ARTICULATED our strategy, do I BELIEVE IT, does our COMMUNITY OF STAKEHOLDERS own it?