||Clear, simple goals don't mean much if nobody takes them seriously. The failure to follow through is widespread in business, and a major cause of poor execution. How many meetings have you attended where people left without firm conclusions about who would do what and when? Everybody may have agreed the idea was good, but since nobody
was named accountable for results, it doesn't get done. Other things come up that seem more important, or people decide it wasn't such a good idea after all. (Maybe they even felt that way during the meeting, but didn't speak up)
For example, a high-tech company was hit hard by the recession of 2001, suffering a 20 percent decline in revenue. The CEO was reviewing the revised operating plan for one of his most important divisions. He congratulated the division president on how well he and his people had reduced its cost structure, but noted that the business would still fall short of its target for return on investment.
And he offered a possible solution. He'd recently learned about the importance of velocity, and suggested that the division could make real gains by working with its suppliers to increase inventory turnover. "What do you think you can do?" he asked the purchasing manager. The manager replied that with some engineering help, he thought he could make substantial improvements. "I'd need twenty
engineers," the manager added.
The CEO turned to the engineering vice president and asked him if he would assign the engineers to the task. The vice president hemmed and hawed for half a minute. Then he said, in chilly tones, "Engineers don't want to work for purchasing." The CEO looked at the vice president for several moments. Finally he said: "I am sure you will transfer twenty engineers to purchasing on Monday." Then he
walked toward the door, turned, and looked at the purchasing executive, and said: "I want you to set up a monthly videoconference with yourself, engineering, the CFO, and me and the manufacturing manager to review the progress of this important effort."
What did the CEO do here? First he surfaced a conflict that stood in the way of achieving results. Second, by creating a follow-through mechanism, he ensured that everyone would indeed do what they were supposed to. This included the division president, who had sat passively on the sidelines until the CEO delivered his ultimatum. And the CEO's action sent a signal through the rest of the company
that others, too, could expect follow-through actions.
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, according to the agreed timetable. It exposes any lack of discipline and connection between ideas and actions, and forces the specificity that is essential to synchronise the moving parts of an
organisation. If people can't execute the plan because of changed circumstances, follow-through ensures they deal swiftly and creatively with the new conditions. GE's senior leaders, for example, follow up every Session C after ninety days - before Session S begins - with a 45-minute teleconference among the people involved with projects that take a long time to be completed.
Leaders can either follow through one-on-one or in group settings as a feedback method. In the group, everybody learns something. The variety of viewpoints raised helps people see the criteria for the decisions, the judgments that are exercised, and the tradeoffs being made. This exposure calibrates people's judgments and aligns the team.
Never finish a meeting without clarifying what the follow through will be, who will do it, when and how they will do it, what resources they will use, and how and when the next review will take place and with whom. And never launch an initiative unless you're personally committed to it and prepared to see it through until it's embedded in the DNA of an organisation.
Catch Ram Charan in person at the seminar "Strategy Execution: Your Competitive Advantage for Surviving into the Future" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 26 June 2006. For more information please visit www.urban-forum.com or www.mim.org.my email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com