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Posted: July 14, 2014

Making pigs fly

Is the problem your strategy, execution or both?

Todd Ordal

A friend expressed frustration with his company the other day. When I queried him about his frustration, he summed it up by saying that they had started to focus on “metrics over mission.”

In this particular example, concern for improving the lives of their customers is starting to take a back seat to short-term revenue targets and internally focused metrics. Newsflash: When you are focused inward, it means that your tush is facing the customer!

When you are not hitting the numbers that you aspire to, it is important to understand why before you start employing drastic actions to pump up the results. There are three possible reasons for missing numbers, and they all have different courses of action.

One, you might have a bad strategy. If your idea of what is important to your target audience is incorrect, you can scramble like a cat on a hot tin roof and execute perfectly but that won’t solve your problem. Tactics like new packaging, new sales techniques, new formulations and a Super Bowl add won’t get you there. There must be an addressable need and you must have a productive strategy to meet it. Innovation is more appropriate in this case than problem solving.

Secondly, you might have a viable strategy but be executing poorly. If performance falls off you need to identify what changed. If you are performing in some areas and not in others (e.g. geographically), it might be an execution problem. If performance has been eroding and the controllable variables have been held constant (e.g. staffing, compensation, sales, marketing, etc.) you might have changing market needs. See the previous paragraph.

Lastly, it might be that your expectations are out of whack. In my friend’s case, his company is trying to dramatically increase their growth rate. They are also changing their strategy (i.e. “what” they are doing to achieve their objectives), which you would expect if they want different results. Unfortunately, they are damaging the culture that made them successful in the first place and alienating those most responsible for the revenue stream. They have chosen metrics over mission.

Without correctly identifying the source of the problem, it is often the case that senior leadership will assume that their strategy is correct and that their metrics are achievable (because both came from senior leadership!) so it must be a problem of execution in the ranks.

Pushing hard to achieve numbers without evidence that your strategy is sound is like trying to make pigs fly by throwing them off of increasingly higher mountains. They still won’t fly, and it pisses off the pigs!

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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Readers Respond

Here's a clue - trying to be succinct: If you set metrics that DO NOT align with where the organizational mission and goals are headed, the people trying to hit their metric marks will necessarily get off track. Metrics are not an end. They are the means to an end. Everything has to be hooked up correctly. Like so many other potential "red herrings" in a trendy toolbox, metrics can lead you astray. Not understanding why and how to measure what you are doing can lead to a consequential result that is just as bad as not doing what you're supposed to be doing... By Diana Royce Smith on 2014 07 14
Thanks, Stephen. Leaders are action oriented, but it often pays to slow the game down and plan before acting so that you are solving for the right problem. Cheers By Todd Ordal on 2014 07 14
It is interesting that so often we hear people say I don't have any choice I need to ... I think you've hit the nail on the head. Before you take an action be sure up know what the problem is. By Stephen Moulton on 2014 07 14
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