one involved wasn’t told about it. Asking questions effectively is an art. When dealing with implementa- tion problems or shortcomings, it is especially important that a territory CEO avoids being perceived as intimi- dating or accusatory. It must be assumed that each co-worker is eager to put forth a quality effort to sat- isfy the team’s goals and expectations. It must also be made clear that placing blame or finger- pointing won’t be tol- erated. Team mem- bers are just that: team members— cohorts and friends. They are not the enemy. Territory CEOs must ask pointed, nonthreatening questions to uncover each team member’s level of under- standing of the objectives, goals, and priorities. Revealing what team mem- bers think they know vs. what they actually know enables the territory CEO to ( 1) seek out deviations to pol- icy or accepted practices, ( 2) appre- ciate where additional instruction is needed, ( 3) determine whether a problem is widespread (e.g., endemic or systemic), ( 4) trace any misunder- standing or absence of knowledge back to known execution failures, and ( 5) devise necessary remedies.
Follow-Up, Follow-Through For company-wide strategic objectives, the planning/execution horizon is often many years out. Oddly enough, however, according to the Wharton article, less than 15% of companies routinely track how they perform over how they thought they were go- ing to perform. Mankins added that measuring performance to goals rarely goes beyond the first year. Whether the center of focus is in the corner office or at the territory
level, ignoring performance-to-goal criteria can unintentionally imply a half-hearted commitment by manage- ment or that effectively implementing the plan isn’t all that important. This mind-set then begs the question, “If lead- ership isn’t concerned about meeting our goals, why should anyone care?” Formally and sys- tematically tracking company, depart- ment, and/or individ- ual progress should be a mandatory, stan- dard procedure. Knowing that key ob- jectives aren’t being met may signal pro- gram architectures and/or personal failures that jeopardize success at mul- tiple levels. Nevertheless, knowing what to monitor can be a challenge. At the onset of a program, team members —both individually and collectively— should know which metrics will be monitored and how often. Addition- ally, the territory CEO must under- stand which of the criteria are rele- vant to the success of the plan and which of those are early indications that changes may be needed (i.e., to avert impending failure). Ignoring weak or negative performance signs can obscure indications that execution bottlenecks exist or are developing and that life support is needed. Methodically and regularly follow- ing up on company and departmental performance milestones is an essen- tial supervisory function. It shows management’s sincere interest and support and substantiates or contra- dicts that the company’s strategic rationale is correct. A territory CEO’s follow-up is similarly needed. It also can confirm that the team’s activities are consis- tent with the company’s objectives and, correspondingly, expose impend- ing or existing weaknesses in execu- tion. Inherent in the follow-up pro- cess is “inquiry.” Team members must be asked, from their viewpoint, what’s working, what isn’t, what’s changed, what can be done better, and what has been learned from any failures or successes. Such discussions should include all territory-related support staff. Problems confronting one department may explain, or at least shed light on, the cause of pol- icy or procedural aberrations being experienced by another unit and nec- essarily lead to a timely, remedial adjustment. Follow-up shouldn’t be restricted to only the in-house team, however. Getting feedback from the customer’s perspective is critical. Speaking only with one’s friends or regular contacts within a customer’s organization may be helpful but not always truly infor- mative. Keep in mind that friends typically have a lot in common. They think the same way, depend on shared resources and values, and hold famil- iar points of view. It is likely, there- fore, that little “new” information will be uncovered when only “friends” are quizzed. To unearth “new” information, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, writes that “Weak ties are always more important than strong ties because they most likely know something that one’s closest contacts don’t know. Weak ties (e.g., customers’ warehouse staff, account- ing clerks, delivery drivers) may be able to provide access to pertinent information—otherwise unknown or unattainable—that may lead to fresh and more effective policy and proce- dural approaches.” And while follow-up is an expres- sion of interest, follow-through is proof of commitment. Bossidy and Charan write, “Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously. Following through ensures that people are doing the things they committed to do, accord-
Following through ensures that people are doing the things they commit- ted to do, according to the agreed timetable. It exposes any lack of discipline and connec- tion between ideas and actions.
—FROM THE BOOK