How to Execute Effectively – Part 2
In the last discourse on effective execution, I made the point that many reform initiatives fail because the proponents forget to focus attention on how to implement their initiatives in an efficient and effective manner. The assumption seems to be that once we choose the right policy combinations we are home and dry. There is little or no consideration about the context in which the implementation will take place. I have argued that the failure to effectively execute is not just a happenstance. It is a social or organisational habit. Companies and countries that fail to effectively execute continue to fumble on the road to execute.
They make the mistakes several times. The reason is that execution is a process. It is a strategic behaviour. And it gets reinforced by previous missteps.
Execution is an important value chain in the transition from vision to reality. So how do we ensure that we don’t fail in this all important aspect of value creation? In the last discourse I argued that the main cause of execution failure is the inability of executors to connect to the strategic domain in terms of understanding the strategic vision, the identity and purpose of the organization and the transitional issues around execution. There must be a handshake between strategists and executors in the organization. Project promoters must first situate themselves in the strategic domain so that they are well attuned to the vision, purpose and identity issues that will hinder effective execution.
Today, I will dwell a little on how to prepare for execution. What is the mindset for effective execution? There are two types of execution mindsets. The first is the deliberative mindset. The other is the implementation mindset. The question is how much deliberation is required in execution. Oftentimes, it is argued that executors should continue to be flexible in execution because of the prevalence of error. We should not be fully committed to the choice we have made because we cannot be sure and there is always the possibility that our choice may be wrong. So how should we make sure we are on the right path and how do we proceed on that path?
The field of leadership and management is now awash with insights on how we make decisions and why many of these decisions are suboptimal. One of the problems of decision making is overconfidence. The behavioural economist, Richard Thaler, has observed that “Perhaps the most robust finding in the psychology of judgement and choice is that people are overconfident”. The view that people are overconfident and that overconfident is dangerous to business success is now almost a gospel truth. As Scot Plous puts it, “No problem in judgement and decision making is more prevalent and more potential catastrophic than overconfidence”. The belief that we are overconfident and overconfidence is bad for decision making has conditioned a high degree of scepticism that now results in a sort of indeterminacy by executors.
We don’t have to be overconfident. But we have to be confident in decision making and firm in implementation if we can grow out of a recession. A recession foists a spirit of caution which will be a good thing if it provides an opportunity for more rational decision. Decision makers, whether they are business manager or public sector administrators, need to imbibe the culture of rational thinking. Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist winner of Nobel Prize in Economics, is famous for his insights on two kinds of thinking: slow and fast thinking. Slow thinking, which he called “type 2 thinking”, has been described as the best suited for decisions where the risk factor is very high. This kind of decisions that managers face. They need to be very deliberate and considered before setting out because the risks of intuitive decision making, represented by ‘type 1 thinking’, could be very damaging for a business. As Kahneman and Dan Lovallo advised, managers should seek a healthy dose of optimism. They must strike a “balance between optimism and realism- between goals and forecasts”.
One good way to walk the lines between optimism and realism in a real business situation that requires speed and deliberation at the same time is to adopt a strategic approach that calibrates between deliberation and action. Before we make a decision to implement we need to engage the deliberation gear. That is, we should open ourselves to all credible evidence and opinions that would either reinforce or reverse our initial thoughts. Behavioural scientists have highlighted the tendency for human beings to seek out reinforcements for their initial, sometimes, perverse decisions. When we seek out evidence we often blindly stumble on those evidences or piece of logic that tend to support our initial view. This is why oftentimes what is called deliberation or consultation may end up to be a tendentious journey to confirm to ourselves what we already believe. This is called confirmation bias. We seek our favourable evidence and agree with the agreeable.
Good execution will require that before we finalise decision we open up to contrarian views and consciously seek out the best evidence. At the stage of strategic vision and choice of initiative we adopt the deliberative mindset. We just think through stuff. We ought to be very humble and flexible at this stage. We follow wherever the evidence leads. This is the planning stage. You lose nothing from being hesitant and deliberate.
Once we have gone past this stage, once we have made decision through deliberative process that allows for the best evidence and provide opportunity for contractarian views and opinions, we have to lock-in the execution. At this stage there is no hesitancy. Effective executors don’t hesitate at the implementation stage. It is not the stage to hold a town-hall. It is a stage to fiercely execute the script. If the script is suboptimal, it is still important to execute determinedly, without wavering. Yes, during execution we continue to build evidence on the effects of the execution of our initiatives. After executing we reengage the deliberative mode as we receive feedbacks on the actual impacts and effects of policy execution. It is such feedbacks that feed into a revision of strategic vision, identity, purpose and the policy projects to achieve strategic vision.
The bottom line for would be effective executors is to always calibrate the mindset. There is a time to consult and review. It is before decision is made and after implementation. When you are implementing you dispense with a deliberative mindset and put on a rigorous implementation mindset.
Dr. Sam Amadi, Chief Ideas Officer of 6th Sense Consulting can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Sam Amadi Abuja, Nigeria 234-803-329-9879
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