How To Excel At Both Strategy and Execution, Middle Managers Are The Heart Of Companies & Distinguishing Constructive Criticism From Bad Advice
20 August 2023 Newsletter
“Winning has a Price. Leadership has a Price. Are you willing to pay that Price?” – Michael Jordan
Hope you’re Thriving!
I’ve enjoyed a great week as we’ve held our own team annual retreat.
Yes, we eat our own dog food!
Our team went a few hours from town and worked through strategy, priorities and different team exercises.
It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come since I started writing this newsletter eight years ago, and looking forward to our goal to be a centre of excellence for strategic planning and coaching.
Distinguishing Constructive Criticism From Bad Business Advice
A great coach asks you the right questions.
Every elite athlete worldwide has a coach, and today, it’s becoming more common that every elite leader and leadership team also has a coach. Why? It gets them to see around corners, and to consider new perspectives and ideas that weren’t otherwise possible. A great coach makes you great.
This week I read a fantastic story about two types of advice from Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine. It tells Jason’s experience with Frank, a wealthy know-it-all partner, and Jerry, a mentor/coach.
From the article;
So how do you separate the good counsel from the bad—the Gerrys from the Franks? Both sounded like advice and criticism, both were experienced, both were strong-willed, and both truly believed in what he was saying.
Here are a few things (from the article) that have helped me filter advice:
- The best advice doesn’t come as a barrage of statements but rather from a series of questions, asked by someone playing devil’s advocate.
- “This is how it’s done” is almost never a good reason.
- It’s easy to cut down ideas; it’s hard to create and execute them. Give me any idea, and I can find someone who thinks it’s dumb. So what? “Constructive” criticism means constructing, not just blasting.
- Does the criticiser volunteer a way to measure the success of her new idea? If so, the only reason not to try it is time or money.
Seek advice that helps you become a better version of yourself, not advice that aims to change who you are. Being yourself is the only thing you’re going to be good at, anyway, which is what will give you the leverage you need to win.
Middle Managers Are The Heart Of Your Company
As I work with leaders to scale companies, I always ask about middle managers. “How can we develop the capabilities of the mid-management team so that they don’t constrain our growth?” I ask.
Because growing the mid-managers today is the key to unlocking tomorrow’s growth curve. There’s only so much capacity in the leadership team, and we need to actively develop the middle managers so they can take on new projects and be capable of delegating and predicting.
So it was interesting last week to see an article from McKinsey about this and the importance of middle managers. Of course, it’s squarely aimed at huge corporate businesses, but there are many key takeaways from the article. I love that it challenges entrenched beliefs in the workplace.
The beliefs it challenges;
- The only way someone at a company can truly advance is to be promoted out of their current role.
- The importance of someone’s job can be measured by how many people are underneath their box on the org chart.
- The more senior the role, the more the person in it should be paid and rewarded.
- Outstanding individual contributors should be rewarded with management roles.
- Anyone who stays in a middle-management role for a long time must not be very good.
Unfortunately, the word “middle” implies that the person in that spot is on the way to somewhere else—ideally, the top.
That thinking is misguided.
Instead, we need to view middle managers as being at the centre of the action. Without their ability to connect and integrate people and tasks, an organisation can cease to function effectively.
This closing quote sums the concept up nicely ‘The way we see it, superstars in management are like the head coach of a football team. After a team wins the Super Bowl, team owners reward and celebrate the coach with accolades, bonuses, and a fat contract renewal. What they don’t do is show appreciation by saying, “Congratulations, I’m moving you to the front office.” But that’s exactly what many companies do.’
Much like the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more’ concept, this article describes how the right place for a person is whatever that right place is for them, and many don’t aspire to leadership.
And that’s OK.
How To Excel At Both Strategy and Execution
Research has shown that only about 8% of company leaders excel at both strategy and execution. There is often a challenge between working on the urgent and important issues of right now rather than the not urgent and important priorities that must be executed over multiple quarters to execute a strategy and create a unique and valuable position in the market that is different from competitors.
In the Harvard Business Review article below, the authors advocate that there are three areas to consider when executing your strategy.
Below are some questions for you to think through that cover all three stages of the strategy-to-execution continuum. Getting these three areas right allows leaders to make a big step forward toward closing the gap between strategy and execution:
Build the strategy.
- Are you very clear about how you add value to customers in a way that others don’t, and about the specific capabilities that enable you to excel at that value proposition?
- As strategies are being developed, are you using the classic approach of “build the strategy, then think about execution,” or are you asking yourself the question, “Do you have the capabilities needed—or can you build the capabilities needed—to execute the strategy?”
- As you’re dealing with disruption, are you shaping the world around you with your given strengths, or are you waiting for change to happen, and therefore playing by someone else’s rules?
Translate the strategy into the everyday.
- Are you diligently following through on what you have decided? You need to be very clear about what the strategy is and what it takes to succeed—and to communicate it so that everyone in the organization understands what they should be doing.
- Are there visible programs (for example specific new technologies, new processes, or training programs) to build the key capabilities your organization needs to win with its strategy?
- Are you building specific connections between strategy and the budgeting process so you’re reallocating funds to where they matter most? And do you have mechanisms in place that translate the strategy into personal goals and rewards for managers and employees?
Execute the strategy.
- Are you motivating employees every single day to understand how what they’re doing connects to the important strategic levers that you have focused on?
- Are you enabling employees to work together across organisational silos to tackle the cross-functional challenges that allow the company to win?
- Are you keeping track not just of your performance, but of how you’re building and scaling up those few key capabilities that enable you to create value for customers in ways that others cannot?
- Is your management team engaged in how you are executing the strategy—not just by measuring results, but by constantly challenging the organization and supporting it in improving its key capabilities? Are you setting your team’s sights high enough for what they need to accomplish, and by when?
IT and Sales
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