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A Culture of Execution and Why it Matters, Part 3

The best place to observe the dynamics of the culture of execution is, ironically, in meetings.

Meetings are most often named as the time-waster, getting in the way of execution. This is certainly true of bad meetings. However, key meetings that happen on a regular basis are actually the key to fantastic execution. The reason is simple: it is in meetings that we agree on what we will do, and it is in meetings that we are accountable for having done it or not. A culture weak on execution does not look like people standing around with their hands in their pockets. It looks like people creating movement designed to avoid blame. The place where the avoiding of blame takes place – meetings.

Getting your culture fixed

If you recall from my previous posts, there are four cultures of execution (from weak to strong):

  • a culture that thrives on avoiding blame
  • a culture that is striving to avoid blame
  • a culture that is striving to execute
  • a culture that is thriving on execution

In each case “thriving” and “striving” refer to the mental and emotional state of the people working in the organization, not the organization itself.

From Thriving on Avoiding Blame to Striving to Avoid Blame

The first step in moving toward being a culture that thrives on execution is introducing clear goals and measurements. When I say this to some executives, I get a deadpan stare back that implies that this is too simple, but it is astonishing how often we work with companies and large groups of front liners can not even articulate what their job is. The front liners need clear job descriptions, processes and measurable goals. Providing this will automatically make it impossible to “thrive on avoiding blame” because as soon as this definition exists, everyone has some obvious way to succeed, or fail, if someone is paying attention.

From Striving to Avoid Blame to Striving to Execute

The next step in the process is to introduce rhythm. I have many thoughts on the value of rhythm. With rhythm we get seasons, great music, weekends and rest. I spend a significant chunk of my work and off time in New Orleans, so I get to see rhythm in action often. I owe a great deal of my personal happiness to rhythm. It is what keeps me from working constantly, which in turn allows me to truly love my work.

For our purposes here, rhythm also empowers execution. Rhythm is very practical. Weekly meetings with a docket of tasks for follow up and notes that go out after the meeting. While it may make all of us uncomfortable at times (because accountability is the intentional cause of discomfort), the weekly meeting done well, combined with measurement, will take any organization into the execution zone.

From Striving to Execute the Thriving on Execution

Let me say this as clearly as possible – no organization can thrive on execution unless the people in the organization LOVE the work itself. Not the money, not the praise, not the power. It is not that they love the culture of the company, the city it is in, or how groovy the brand is. It’s that they love the work itself. This process is much longer than the first two. It has to do with managing competency levels as well as work load.

In the 1980s, researchers at the University of Chicago developed a concept called “flow”. For those unfamiliar with the study, about 100,000 people around the globe were given a means of recording what they were doing at that moment and how they felt. It was discovered that the optimal human experience, let’s call it “bliss”, happened when someone was fully engaged in a task and there was a harmony between their personal competence and the challenge represented by the task. This triggers the kind of bliss that combines happiness with a feeling of empowerment and timelessness. For example, we have all seen a concert pianist so engrossed in her music that she appears to be in another world. This “bliss” can also happen on a sales call, while working on a spreadsheet, or even when cleaning a bathroom. If there is much challenge – it causes stress. If there is too little challenge – bordeom. If there’s the right amount – flow.

Let me say it again: your company will not thrive on execution because you throw another office party. It will thrive on execution when the people who work for you love their work, and it is easier to get there than you think.

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