The Big Three:
Focus, Execution & Me
By Charles A. Breeding

What is your central focus today? How well do you consistently execute on that focus? How do you need to change and adapt in order to focus and execute and lead more effectively? Whether you are an executive, executive coach, a consultant or aspiring to be one, mastering the three key behaviors of performance will set you above the rest with illuminating leadership and improved communication - like light in a dimly lit room. These three areas of personal mastery – focus, execution, and leadership - will pay the greatest dividends for the time invested. With them, you'll lead effectively at the highest levels. Without them, your execution excellence potential and consistency is severely limited regardless of your role or station in life.
Consider that as people we are either "green and growing" or "ripe and rotting" in our personal and professional development. Think about it. I've observed in my 27 years of work that the people who need training and performance improvement the most, want it the least; and the people who need training the least, want it the most. The fact that you're reading this article is testimony to that fact - you're looking for a competitive edge.

Entropy: Your constant Enemy

Do you recognize the constant need to deal with ambiguity, chaos and confusion? Everyone is fighting one devil constantly: Entropy. Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics and essentially states that in nature, everything goes from a state of order to a state of disorder - naturally, by itself. In other words, at this very moment dust is settling everywhere around you. Right now, your car is not maintaining its value. It is literally decreasing in value; and mechanically, it is getting worse - naturally, all by itself. Thus, it is the same with teams and organizations - they need constant light to grow and achieve their potential.
Without your leadership intervention in three focused areas, what is admittedly normal organized chaos in most organizations quickly becomes increasingly unproductive. Entropy requires that leaders have to intervene – provide light, focus and accountability for execution -- but in the right manner with the right tools. Without the right skills and tools, leadership is doomed to never realize the full potential of the team. This may be your single greatest calling as a leader.

The Recipe

It is my proposition that focus, execution, and your leadership make up the basic recipe for success in meeting promises to customers, shareholders, and employees. The competencies needed to be effective are:

In this chapter, you will learn how the competencies of planning clarity, scoreboarding, and letting go intelligently work synergistically to achieve execution excellence. For focus effectiveness, master the planning clarity step after taking so much required time to specify and state your strategy. Execution is aided by the key competency of displaying meaningful metrics all the way to frontline people. After all, it is the frontline that produces the bottom-line, so allow them the visual depiction of goal progress via a scoreboard. Finally, in Focus, Execution and Me – for many individuals, it’s all about learning how to master the key skill area of delegation – what I like to call, “letting go intelligently”. Let’s look at the first competency: Planning Clarity.

1. Planning Clarity
Here's a simple diagram that visually depicts why so many of us are challenged by effective planning:

When one takes just a little more time to adequately plan, the execution of a task, a project, or an objective is reduced in the time it takes to achieve. It also reduces the rework along the way with fewer delays, headaches, and chaos. You're shooting for effectiveness more than efficiency in proper planning clarity. Leave it to the English to say it best:
"The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression." Sir John Harvey-Jones
The opportunity in planning clarity is similar to having an accurate map when setting out upon a journey. When people say to me, “Why bother planning? It’ll change tomorrow..,” my reply is, “When the seas are the roughest is when your navigation should be the surest.” If you’re facing more change today, this means your planning clarity must be sharper, more focused and with contingencies.

2. Scoreboard - Dashboarding & Performance Feedback
Can you imagine having to drive across the continent with black tape across your automobile's dashboard? You have no idea how fast you're traveling, how much gas you have, no feedback whatsoever.
Yet that is how many organizations operate today. Let's begin with two fundamental questions:
• If we asked ten people in your organization what are the top three organizational objectives or goals, would we get the same answer?
• What visible, public scoreboard (or dashboard) do you utilize to provide your people (and yourself) feedback about how we're doing?
In 2004, Harris Polling surveyed over 12,000 people in eight industries on these two questions and found these astonishing answers:
• Only 15% of those surveyed knew their organization's top goals and priorities.
•Only 16% of those surveyed said their organization provided a compelling scoreboard that depicted progress against their goals or organizational objectives.
What is your experience in how proficient most managers and executives are in performance coaching and feedback?
You may agree that this one area is not the strength of most executives, managers or some coaches. An interesting statistic: out of over 1.2 million people that Franklin Covey Co. has profiled (360 degree feedback containing peer, boss and subordinate ratings), the category that scored last out of seventy-seven competencies measured was "My boss provides me feedback on my performance" - dead last.
The opportunity in improved performance feedback is retaining key talent and having people who respect you and want to be mentored by you. The challenge is one of either no courage (fear is a large issue because it's not comfortable to confront poor performance) or no behavioral impact in improving performance via expert coaching.

3. Letting Go Intelligently – Delegation
It's a well-documented fact that delegation is not a strength of most managers. Michael Gerber in his book The Entrepreneurial Myth says most managers, owners and executives are so busy working "in" the business that they fail to work "on" the business.
You cannot work on the business when one is constantly in the business reacting to both urgent and important demands and fires to put out, to-do lists that are too long, lack of clarity of goals, and leaders rarely focused on developing people because they can't let go intelligently. One rarely is promoted by mysteriously being somehow plucked up, but rather by rising on the achievements of their people like boats rising on the incoming tide.
The opportunity wrapped in improved delegation is an immense return of additional time to work on the business - time that can be spent on item# 1: planning clarity. It may take a few weeks’ time, but it will happen. Delegation is wrought with real risks. The dual benefits of increased personal time on your part and building and developing your key talent outweigh the associated risks, do they not? It takes real courage to let go - more on this at the end.

Where's the Beef?
The how to’s of Planning Clarity

Remember this line from the '70's Wendy’s hamburger TV commercials? Here's the beef about planning with greater clarity.

1. Vision - with a blank canvass, paint the detailed, colorful picture of what your world looks like in six key areas: financial, faith, relationships, health, career, personal growth, and leisure. For an organization, it's a paragraph or two outlining your vision for the future. This step carries the rest of the plan in providing a compelling enough vision that makes people want to do the hard work to obtain it.
2. Humbling look at reality - No system can see itself in the mirror. Assess and benchmark your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Consider one of the several, superb organizational assessments in the marketplace like Gallup’s Q12 or FranklinCovey’s xQ (Execution Quotient) to create the impetus required to drive effective change strategies. The most important outcome of an organizational assessment is the humbling nature of the data, which tends to create the necessary dissatisfaction with the status quo. Effective leaders realized that only when the PAIN of the status quo EXCEEDS the pain of the change, will organizations truly change for the better.
3. What are your PIGs - Pretty Important Goals? What appears to be a goal is mostly something else - a strategy, loosely worded targeted direction, a recipe, tactic or project option - but often not a goal. How many goals is the ideal focus? No more than three to four PIGs is ideal. Research shows that as the number of goals exceeds three, the degree by which they are accomplished with a sense of excellence dramatically decreases.
4. What's the plan, Sam? Tactics, methods, project and process management tools have been with us for decades. This is the hardest of the five steps because in essence, it's the plan to implement the plan. Detailing via a timeline what deliverables are due at regularly checked (weekly) benchmarks is critical. Note that it's an iterative process, but the plan will constantly change and adapt, like a boat's sails to the winds. When I'm asked, "Why bother, the plan will likely change anyway..," I reply that "..When the seas are the roughest (LOTS of change right NOW), the navigation has to be the surest." It may save you from going Ready, Fire, Aim. Then work to scorecard progress -- call it a "gauge" of leading indicators, not lagging indicators like financials buried in an Excel document. Leading indicators are predictors of future performance.
5. Budget management and resource allocation - What's the most common attribute of any great artist, athlete, or executive? Think about a perfect golf swing or tennis racket swing: it’s all about follow through. Talk about budgets and money and revisit often. While that sounds ridiculously simple, I'm amazed how often meetings don't cover financial factors fully. Resource allocation should be a constant dialogue, built upon bridges of collaboration, coordination and communication every week or month. Ask: What’s the best use of our limited resources today?” The negotiation process is painful, yet the recommendation is to increase the frequency of the re-evaluation – to a weekly or monthly basis.

Tracking via Scoreboards & Performance Feedback

The opportunity in scoreboards is simple: the purpose of a scoreboard is to motivate the players to win -- often without you or with less time required of you because people are self-correcting and self-accountable. Think about it - if you do not have to intervene as often or as much with your team, is that a bad thing?
To implement the use of scoreboards, begin with one goal and brainstorm a list of leading indicators. Leading indicators are those that are predictive of future results. Note that you may be looking at inputs (tasks, activities) but the best indicators are outputs – (interim results that lead to the ultimate objective).

Next, you set three targets for your scoreboard:
1. Current results and metrics
2. Target result or metric (must be quantifiable)
3. By when?
When setting up your target, it's best to set three numbers, not just one number. Why? When you set a single achievement point, you either win or lose - there's no range to shoot for. Instead, set three numbers: the minimum goal (the fence that has to be jumped over), the expected goal, and the stretch goal. This way, people and teams are shooting for a range that gives them more confidence and assurance.
Next, set up a scoreboard with three simple colors: green for within the range of accomplishment, yellow for close but out of range given the time period, and red for being behind where one needs to be, given the deadline. When this tool is available all the way to the front-line worker, you'll find an atmosphere of self-management conducive to accomplishing objectives.
For example, if a service quality satisfaction current result is 86 on a scale of 1-100, the minimum increase would be 88, the real goal is 90, and the stretch goal would be 94. Scores below 88 would register in needle on the gauge in red. Scores from 88 to 89 would be yellow. Scores at 90 or above would be green.
Thus, let's say that your team is in the yellow or red. It's time for some performance feedback and coaching. While this topic is much more than can be covered in a chapter of this length, let's look at some key ingredients of effective feedback as guideposts for your team:
1. The challenge with most performance feedback is that it occurs far too infrequently. Ask anyone how much guidance and counsel their manager provides - like on the days when you have four urgent and important priorities - and the vast majority of people say, "not enough”. Leaders make it a weekly habit to have brief engagement meetings to learn of progress on their goals, and to get help in prioritizing the two to three things that their employees must get done next week. Finally, brainstorm with a group about new and better ways to tackle the goal and objective. Yes, meet weekly for 10-15 minutes with your people individually. This way, a performance review becomes a summation of weekly coaching sessions instead of a revelation that this is how you feel about their performance.
2. Since leaders are responsible for everything their people do or fail to do, when your people fail, you fail.. When performance slips, is it because they don't know how to, or that they don't want to? One is a training issue; the other is a motivational issue. Thus, rather than talk at people, talk with them by engaging in open-ended questions to get at a root-cause of the performance breakdown.
3. Never end the meeting without agreeing what your employee is going to start doing, stop doing, or do differently. Set a time to meet to review progress. Knowing that specific actions or behaviors are going to be reviewed soon at a future meeting gives the employee a sense of accountability and expectation.
4. How would you rate accountability at your organization? Measured on a scale of one to ten, I often hear an average of five because it's dependent on the manager doing the coaching with her/his team. Accountability is not a strength of most organizations. The opposite of love is not hate, folks - it's indifference, apathy and neglect. Discipline yourself to meet briefly each and every week, and follow up (as described earlier) for 10 minutes on what three things must you and your people accomplish next week. This is best performed individually via face-to-face, phone or virtual meeting technologies. Don't neglect people week in and week out by failing to talk. Communication is like light in a room for them, in that they see where they are, where they need to be, and they feel in on things.

Letting Go Intelligently -
Mastering Delegation & Achieving Empowerment

Execution is heavily affected by your ability to delegate and empower. Let’s look at our personal lives first for an example. Think about what's involved when you give your car keys to your teenager the first time:
• You have confidence that they're not going to wreck the car based on one-on-one training with them over time. Yes, there's a front-end investment of time.
• Your teenager has an understanding of the rules, limitations and boundaries involved, and knows there are repercussions or consequences if those rules are broken.
• You cannot have an atmosphere where "failure isn't fatal" so that one is encouraged to learn from his mistakes. Otherwise, people just won't take risks.

Here are the “how-to’s” of delegation.

Principles of Delegation

The receiver must see it as a forward step
You must be willing to "let go" and take a little time upfront to train/work with employees
You must know the results expected and be able to articulate that outcome in writing
You must know the skills and abilities of your people
Sufficient authority must be given
Rules must be clear
The receiver knows that help is available
"Organize, deputize, and supervise" - INSPECT what you EXPECT!
A good test of "dumping" vs. "delegating" is 1) I like to do the task 2) I'm good at it
3) it's important, and it takes a good chunk of my time. Develop a list that meets those criteria and let go of those first.

Steps to Delegation and "Letting Go Intelligently"

1. Select the Person - seriously consider growth involved (if high-potential employee, you’d want to delegate to him/her before you’d delegate to a person with little capability to be promoted)
2. Plan the delegation BEFORE you see the person
3. In meeting, delegate by these principles: results, rules, & performance standards
4. Ask for a plan of action in writing
5. Review plan with person and gain agreement
6. Implement the plan with your total support
7. Maintain positive follow up to insure results are accomplished; inspect what you expect.

When you follow the principles and steps above, you will be more successful in delegating.

Perhaps at several points in this chapter, you said to yourself, “I know that.” Understand that to KNOW something, and DO it effectively are two, completely different things. Indeed, the areas of planning clarity, scoreboarding, and delegation are NOT strengths of most executives. Apply yourself to master these three key performance areas following these principles and suggestions, and your productivity and sense of accomplish will soar.

Final thought: Let us all learn to let go more and ask more questions. Jacques Toqueville said it best: "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so that I can lead them there."

When you practice humility, servant leadership, you will not only find out where your people are going, but also occasionally have the privilege of leading them there.

Author's Bio: 

Charlie Breeding is President of Performance Improvement Institute, an Internet Information provider, publisher and professional speaking, coaching, consulting and training firm.
Mr. Breeding is a graduate of the US Military Academy, West Point and has worked in the Performance Improvement area for over 23 years – fifteen years with Dale Carnegie Training, and two years with FranklinCovey.
His clients include colleges/ universities, non-for-profits, small, medium-sized and large organizations such as AT&T, Chrysler, and Lucent Technologies. For organizations, more information can be obtained at www.thePEPcoach.com and for individuals, go to http://www.breedingtrust.com . PEP = Productivity, Execution & Performance.
His second book, Breeding Trust will be published in late 2007.