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Owning the Whole Before Your Piece

Leadership

One of the most amazing traits of executive teams is they can all have individual IQs of 160, but when they operate as a team they seem to have a collective IQ of 22.  You would think the collective intellectual horsepower would be tremendous. But rarely is the total greater than the sum of its parts.

The problems that many organizations experience can be traced back to their inability to think, decide, and act together.  The main reason is the failure to harness the extraordinary concentration of talent into prioritized, integrated, and simplified priorities for the organization.

This reality was highlighted in a Booz and Company study where 64% of the more than 2,300 global executives surveyed said they had too many conflicting priorities.  If leaders don’t own the whole strategy first – before focusing on their separate priorities, people in the organization are bombarded with each leader’s individual agendas.

The real key for each member of the team to own the whole before their piece:  They must sacrifice the area that they represent for the overall good of the company.  Easy to say, hard to do!

Here are some approaches organizations and senior leaders can take to ensure they successfully own the whole:

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1. Seek a view of priority, integration, and simplicity from the perspective of your people.

An executive had a reflective moment at a town hall meeting where each manager had a chance to speak and translate the company strategy into the most important actions.  When she stopped counting, she had written down 40 different tactics that people were asked to go and do.  This was an average of 8 separate and distinct items for each of the 5 leaders.  She had an “aha” that was both embarrassing and yet impactful for the next session.

2. Pace and sequence must be understood and managed for the whole.

Whenever a team tries to reduce priorities, it’s common to go from 12 to 22.  The real key is to look at organizational priorities and initiatives in a pipeline that must be paced and sequenced to ensure organizational digestibility.

One idea is to define and sequence initiatives as Developed, Piloted, Expanded Rollout, or Scale.

3. Connect the dots before you send out the puzzle pieces.

If you look at executing strategy or strategic priorities, it’s important to constantly own how it all fits together, because sometimes it doesn’t.  Redundancies, inconsistencies, and contradicting directions all surface quickly when “own the whole” translates to telling the story of how all the pieces fit together.

4. East/west rising versus north/south ownership:

Most leaders are trained and seasoned at managing in a vertical north/south direction. The problem today is that most strategies can’t be implemented with a north/south structure. Today’s growth strategies require an east/west management capability where leaders are accountable for handoffs and integrations that they don’t totally own and are focused on influencing others in different functions or departments who don’t directly report to them.

The reality is that these are not easy to do, and every organization will improve with these approaches over time. But “owning the whole” can lead to a more effectively run organization with higher performance because everyone has a clear understanding of what priorities and objectives the business is tackling and are more likely to achieve those outcomes.

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