Mind the Gap

We have an honesty problem inside companies in the UK! There, I said it… and it felt quite good, so I'll say it again - We have an honesty problem inside our companies in the UK.

Whenever I say that to executives that I meet with I get the flinch (or similar) that I expect. I'm not, however, trying to cause offence, merely to grab a little attention. I'm not talking about criminal dishonesty or even questionable morals - simply that in my (and our) experience, leadership teams are rarely aligned in terms of their understanding of what the company is trying to achieve and are even less clear about where they are starting from.

Not spending enough time debating and exploring the various components of the ambition – what you're collectively trying to achieve - is one of the most common things we see, but I've covered the importance of Purpose and Ambition before so I'm not going to do it again beyond saying that if everyone around the top table has a different view of what they're trying to achieve (with their level of belief dictated by their own version of the future), then its certain that the tens, hundreds or thousands of people reporting to them will also share some or all of their views.

So, if knowing where we're going, why we're going there and believing that it is both achievable and worthwhile is essential to successful execution of strategy what about where we are now?

We have a natural tendency in professional circles to “spin" or “embellish" the truth when it comes to how well things are going – in my first job it was almost expected that whenever we met someone from another branch we would exaggerate how well we were doing and naturally they would do the same. In sales and marketing terms this has become second nature – we apply positivity to things because it's infectious and seen as an important part of encouraging others to feel good about what we're asking them to support or buy. Yet there is a time and place for unbridled positivity and for any organisation seeking to create a better version of itself - starting with delusions is highly dangerous (to put it mildly).

I think we're so busy being positive and committed to the cause that we daren't stop and say, “excuse me, but I'm not sure I understand" or “I don't think that goal is achievable and it's affecting my ability to believe in it". At all levels of the companies we work in, we find that people are saying “yes" when they really mean "no" or "I don't know" but they feel unable to do anything other than play along.

All companies are made up of humans. We know that as humans we all respond best to a clear picture of what we're trying to do and an honest assessment of where we are today. Without these two things, the execution of any strategy is destined to fail from the outset - how can you possibly bridge a gap that you don't understand? Worse still, executives wonder why the people in their businesses are reluctant to join in the latest change drive, but people remember the last time "you told me we were here and jumping to there… the gap was bigger than you said and we failed. This time I'm going to wait".

So here is my little bit of advice for all leaders when you are considering the next stage of your strategic development - spend a little more time on where you are today. Find out from your staff how things really get done in your business. Find out what frustrates your customers. Identify the things that are currently preventing the people in your business from doing the best job they could do and satisfying those customers. People in your business know!!!

If we can't determine the distance between the take off and landing, or what the conditions are like on either side – we probably shouldn't expect other people to make the jump.

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