“Nothing’s happening! Why isn’t anything happening?”

Strategy, planning, and communication are all crucial parts of leadership and organizational life. But it’s execution that most people really notice, from the CEO to the most junior frontline team member.

When your employees don’t see changes under way and progress being made, the best and brightest may seek greener pastures. Even the most comfortable, long-term staffers can become disengaged and disaffected if they believe an organization has stalled.

It doesn’t matter how developmental or collaborative an organization has been historically, or how pleasant the work environment might be. As a leader, you can’t afford to hope things will right themselves. Yes, being upbeat and aspirational is helpful, but showing you can face the rigors of the road is crucial to moving your organization, your team, and your own career forward.

Need a Reality Check?

If things seem stuck at any stage of implementation, probe to identify what’s fallen down and where you need to get involved so that everyone can continue — or begin — to advance.

  • Check the strategy: Are we doing what we committed to? Revisit the vision and goals. Confirm that the purpose is clear and that there’s general agreement about the values and behavior — “the way we work here.” Are we getting the outcomes we anticipated? Does everyone know what the requirements are, and their place in meeting them?
  • Check the plan: Was there anything inaccurate or off base in our decisions about what we needed to accomplish? Or were there errors made specifically in implementation/execution? Are we following our timeline? Are the right measurements being done? Did we get distracted by something that seemed more urgent or interesting, or which really belongs in next year’s plan?
  • Check the communication: Is there sufficient alignment among the various decision-makers and teams with joint responsibilities or interdependent workloads? Are all leaders sending consistent messages to the troops who have to work together to get the job done? If not, you’ll see decisions being remade and ongoing recriminations about why things aren’t working — but no forward motion. Verify that folks are in synch not merely about what the goals are, but what they mean, and how they are to be carried out.

Look for Underlying Fault Lines

Sometimes you have to drill down into individual behaviors, performance, and approaches to find disagreements, mitigate damage, and reestablish objectives or norms. If there’s persistent conflict around the same topics, step in or find other ways to help participants resolve their differences, or you’ll never reduce the friction within the system.

Are people behaving in self-serving ways? Have they lost focus on the outcomes that are best for the organization as a whole? Are they optimizing their own success, turf, clout, or status, and sub-optimizing the welfare of the group, the plan, or the customers?

Perhaps there are gaps in individual attitudes, aptitudes, or acumen, so that no matter how much someone may wish to contribute, their efforts are ineffective. Any structural barriers to success or unmet resource needs must also be uncovered and addressed.

Getting a Move On

Once inertia has become the norm, it’s no longer practical to encourage people to try finding a solution on their own, or to assume they’ll resolve the problems themselves. Work from the top down, as far into the organization as necessary, to gather data and gain conceptual agreement from the participants, and then put all the issues on the table with a facilitator.

Acknowledge people’s frustration and the need to create momentum and accelerate progress. Restate the strategy, and if necessary, revise plans to incorporate current structural realities. Recognize contributions from all parties, and specify clearly the individual and team alignments that are necessary to move forward together.

Ensure ongoing communication between teams about new targets and approaches, and establish necessary development or corrective actions for any individuals or groups that have gone off course.

And be sure to circle back, often and visibly, to measure progress and share the results, so that everyone can see the new achievements and feel comfortable about playing the new game.