Impruver Why Best People are Leaving
  • October 28, 2022
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This article is a section from the upcoming book by Calvin L Williams titled F.I.T. – Agile Strategy Execution for Unstoppable Growth.

I know a woman who worked for the same company for 35 years before it went out of business. Recently divorced, she was terrified, scrambling to figure out how she would keep the bills paid. She was in her late 50s and needed to find a new job as a purchasing agent. However, her skills were suited for only manual purchasing systems as her former employer had not advanced technologically in this area. The company had included this upgrade in its strategic plan for years but failed to execute it repeatedly, getting overly consumed in its firefighting culture. The woman faced many challenges in her search for employment. Hiring managers were only interviewing candidates with experience with the latest ERPs. This woman was deeply concerned that she would not be able to find meaningful work as her skills were out of step with the market. She was eventually able to secure a job as a purchasing agent after about a year of searching. However, she had to start as a Jr agent, earning $25k less than she made in her former company. The ultimate price for a company that falls too far behind the times is bankruptcy and then dissolution. Companies are not people, though. Unfortunately, the people who worked there must continue to move forward. They, too, have lost value in the market and now need to focus and execute well to catch back up.

Waterfall strategy execution is a process where leaders set multiple annual goals per person and then infrequently check to see if they are thriving or not. It’s like throwing people in the pool’s deep end to see if they will swim or drown. It allows the leader to remain passive in executing strategy and use fear as the primary motivator for action. It places the leader in the position of judge that assumes guilt, while innocence or worthiness must be proven. The failure rate for this approach to strategy execution is enormous with some experts estimating around 90%. Why do companies continue with such an unproductive process? Well, because its easy for the planner, or leader in this case to manage; however, its nearly impossible for everyone else. This approach worked in a buyer’s labor market with few job opportunities because swarms of people were waiting to take work away from those who couldn’t cut it. Today, we have a seller’s labor market, and companies are struggling to improve these suppressive, fear-inducing practices. There are significant drawbacks to using fear as a primary motivator. For one, it limits the organization’s potential to that of the leader—fear-driven cultures value compliance and obedience over advancement in the market. People put the needs of their leader first, despite their customers. Those who are more talented, intelligent, or capable than the leader are seen as threats to the leader’s authority. Secondly, innovation, thinking, and continuous learning are stifled. Leaders in these environments want control over their subjects’ knowledge, information, actions, and thoughts. The leader’s narrative takes priority over the truth so that people continue to submit their power to the leader. Thirdly, fear-driven cultures attract people who are easily controlled by fear. It is a self-perpetuating cycle where those genuinely concerned with progress are systematically pushed out by the many who fear the consequences of insubordination.

The Waterfall strategy execution approaches, such as OGSMs and OKRs, inherently suppress talent. As the company gets behind on what creates value in the market, so do the skills and capabilities of the people who work there. The tools, methods, and policies a company uses to operate need to remain current to enable the company’s and its employees’ advancement in the world. This approach is marked by leaders who are often not actively working to implement the strategic plan. The infrequent review cycles, extended deadlines, and lack of urgency for execution allow leaders to get distracted easily. This creates a dynamic where they don’t spend enough time coaching or “pulling their people into the future.” In a sense, the job of a leader is to lead people into a better future or a higher station in life that can’t be achieved as individuals. When leaders lack a vision or don’t actively work toward it, people fall away from the leader. They either start down their own path to continue to make progress or languish alongside the leader. They pay a tremendous opportunity cost because they lack exposure to the example of effective leadership. It’s like a flower that dies due to a lack of sunlight. Of course, people don’t usually die from this, but their development is stunted. The Waterfall strategy execution approach places results and compliance over people development, resulting in a culture of talent suppression. People who want more from their careers eventually leave for greener pastures.

Zig Ziglar on Focus - Impruver

The alternative is Agile Strategy Execution, which engages everyone in improving something important every day. ASE helps establish a goal for every person in the company that is aligned with what’s most important to improve for the company. These leaders coach their team members regularly, asking questions to encourage thinking, problem-solving, and better decision-making. An added benefit is that leaders remain more connected with business operations as they constantly learn from their team members. These leaders quickly realize what improvements they can make to the management system to enable their team members to achieve results with greater ease and put their talent to its highest and best use. Team members execute a series of improvements until their goal is reached. Afterward, they set and work toward their next goal in series. Goals and improvements are set and executed in sequence to maximize learning and quality of execution. This is the application of continuous, single-piece-flow as used in Lean environments. People achieve more goals with greater relevancy by the end of the year.

Download a chapter of the best-selling new leadership book, FIT: The Simple Science of Achieving Strategic Goals

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