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Leading with Focus

Originally published on August 24, 2016

This is the sixth part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.  — Unknown

Leading implementation of an organization’s vision is a daunting task—a great responsibility. Like most processes, the key to optimizing implementation takes place in the beginning with critical thinking and planning for implementation. There are five broad steps to implementing successfully a strategic vision: 

  1. Develop a plan

  2. Set standards

  3. Determine risk

  4. Communicate the plan

  5. Measure progress

In a study of what senior leaders viewed as the important policy and strategy activities during the period from 2014-2017, the results supported the steps outlined above:

Policy & Strategy Emphases 2014-2017. (Adapted from Hagemann et al., 2014)

One of the common threads to the respondents’ priorities is the inclusion of integration and systemic practices and metrics. In other words, the success of the organization is dependent upon the codependency of the organization’s segments, how well they coordinate and integrate processes (which creates efficiencies) and measuring progress in a more holistic manner.

Let’s take a look at the five steps mentioned above in more detail, including their potential to foster integration and systemic processes and metrics.

Developing a Plan. Much like traditional project management theory, the most important part of the process is planning. A simplistic view of planning is to determine what tasks need to be accomplished, by whom, in what order. From there, you must determine available resources, necessary resources that are not available and how they may be obtained, and how to most efficiently allocate the resources. But planning itself can be an iterative process, integrated with implementation as the plan is executed. An example is the five processes in traditional project management, as illustrated below.

Project Management Processes.

Notice that the Monitoring and Controlling process encompasses the planning and executing processes. This is because there will be times during execution of your strategy when you may find it necessary to revise plans, change resource requirements, experience changes in customer or stakeholder requirements, or other instances that may require replanning. In this sense, even though the majority of planning is accomplished prior to executing plans, the planning process may have iterative components as well…and not just for “the plan”—it also applies to helping employees adjust to work environment changes.

Setting Standards. If you cannot measure it, you should not be doing it. If you ever took Six Sigma training, you have most certainly heard this. Later will be a discussion of measuring progress; however, in order to measure progress, there must be standards set and target metrics by which to gauge those measurements. Here is where that happens. For each kind of organization, there will be different metrics—different goals based on the products or services provided. An example might be a manufacturing company, which would have some of the following standards:

Production StandardsExpected Growth RateQuality StandardsCustomer Satisfaction Goals

For each factor that you determine to be a measurable goal for your organization, the next step is prioritizing them. Some may be more important than others, but some may be necessary predecessors that enable others. This is where your critical thinking skills—and those of your team—will serve you well.

Without setting standards, the final step of measuring cannot be effective. These standards will drive the metrics used to assess progress toward reaching your goals, pitting the work completed and remaining against schedules, resources, value-added to date, and so forth. When you do analyses on your progress, having standards to compare against actual progress is how you determine whether you are ahead of or behind schedule, over or under budget, whether resource allocations were/are optimized, areas requiring replanning, and so forth.

Determining Risks. Risk…it comes with every new venture, every opportunity, every plan, every goal. In implementing movement toward the vision of an organization, identifying risks, associated issues, potential positive and negative outcomes, and whether the plan is worth the risk is essential. There are four options for addressing risk:

  • Find a work-around so that the risk never occurs.

  • Decide to live with the consequences if the risk event occurs.

  • Prepare to deal with the risk with a contingency plan.

  • Get someone else to share, assume, or underwrite the risk for you.

Risks vary from organization to organization, from goal to goal, from event to event. Some risks include resource shortages or cost variance, unexpected equipment failures or unavailability, funding shortfalls or unanticipated costs, and—the one you can likely have the most influence over—low employee morale. Much like setting standards, you must analyze risks and prioritize them based on the potential threat to attaining your goals and vision.

Communicating. Communication will be discussed in more detail in the next section; however, communicating effectively—from inception to completion of attaining a vision, goals, etc.—is absolutely essential. If you do not establish and maintain open lines of communication—including feedback loops—you are handicapping your opportunity for success. Perhaps the area within communication that people often forget to address is the third dimension. Communication down the line of authority (first dimension) and up the line of authority (second dimension) re intuitive to most leaders and managers as well as many employees. The forgotten dimension is lateral communication among people who are at the same level of the hierarchy or project (the third dimension). As much as the first two dimensions keep the various levels of the hierarchy informed, the third dimension is often where parts of the organization working toward a common goal and vision identify either disconnects or potential new opportunities to gain efficiencies through collaborative communication.

Measuring Progress. This is not simply an end state step; rather it falls into the same process as project monitoring and controlling as illustrated in figure 7 on the previous page. Even though ongoing measurements are necessary, they cannot be without purpose or planning. Develop a feasible schedule for measuring progress, keeping in mind that too little may not find challenges in time to act on them and too frequently may pull resources away from primary tasks in order to collect and analyze data.

Don’t get hung up on the numbers! It is not just the quantitative measures that should interest you, but also the qualitative—human—factors. How is job satisfaction for your employees? In a general sense, the higher the satisfaction, the more likely they will be committed to the work…and the more they are committed to the work, the better they will perform. As a leader, you are the key—if you demonstrate those qualities by your actions, your people are far more likely to adopt that attitude and commitment.


Next week will be part seven of the Blog series: A Shared Purpose


Hagemann, B., Mattone, J., & Maketa, J. (2014). Trends in executive development: A benchmark report. Retrieved from



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