Every day, tens of thousands of CEOs and other organizational leaders work on strategy execution in order to get their plans accomplished and missions fulfilled.

And every day, many of them simply fall flat on their faces.

It is frustrating, especially when you envision the billions of dollars and countless labor hours lost in this effort – and imagine how much better things could be in our economy if this wasn’t so.

Successful strategy execution depends on a lot of factors, of which only a few are fully out of our control (such as the weather, politics, and catastrophes.) The truth is, most failures in execution are traceable to internal factors, which are in our control.

For whatever reason, be it tunnel vision, arrogance, or simple distraction, it is often impossible for executives to properly investigate the root cause of their failure to meet their organizational mission and remedy them. In these cases, it is often valuable to get an outside perspective on things.

What successful strategy execution depends upon

In the book Six Disciplines for Excellence: Building Small Businesses That Learn, Lead and Last, our CEO Gary Harpst introduces six precepts which form a methodology for achieving excellence in business.

While we have updated the terminology since the original book came out in 2007, the steps or “disciplines” described are fundamentally the same and used by our consultants and the businesses we help in daily practice.

The cycle each company goes through when executing change is as follows:

1. Set strategy (what is the vision?)

2. Develop plans (how will change be managed?)

3. Organize and align resources (are we vertically and horizontally aligned?)

4. Manage execution (are the teams in place and working?)

5. Enable innovation (what improvement opportunities are we uncovering while executing?)

6. Encourage Organizational learning (what’s our next planning cycle going to look like?)

Forming the foundation of the system are four important elements:

· Repeatable methodology

· Accountability coaching

· Execution system

· Community learning

So, the basis for successful strategy execution is a repeatable methodology for implementation and improvement, followed by coaching to ensure execution and the development of further best practices. And this is why accountability coaching is so valuable to organizations seeking to improve their execution.

How accountability coaches work

If you are dipping your toes into accountability coaching for the first time, it helps to mimic the traits of successful ones.

At Six Disciplines, our senior coaches are seasoned business executives who each have 20-30 years of experience in running organizations and dealing with the many pitfalls that crop up. These are the cream of the crop, and they are used to dealing with people with strong personalities while remaining unbiased.

They can say respectfully say “no” rather than bend to the whims of a leader who might only be used to hearing “yes.” This quality is valuable because of the aforementioned issues of tunnel vision, arrogance and distraction, which can affect even the most well-intentioned executives.

They guide organizations through the use of a repeatable business-building methodology — helping organizations figure out where to start and what to work on, in what order — to improve their capability to execute and transform their businesses.

Most importantly, they are experts in getting others throughout all levels of the organization to accept accountability through:

• Setting clear expectations

• Involving employees in setting the expectations, to increase their perceived credibility and reasonableness

• Campaigning so that employees understand the impact of success, or lack thereof, on the organization and on their jobs directly

• Focusing on results, not activities, in order to properly motivate employees

• Tracking objectives and results through available software tools such as project management software or 6D’s proprietary Action Manager.

A few other points to keep in mind regarding accountability coaching:

• While coaching employs a repeatable methodology, coaches should engage with employees in ways that acknowledge and honor their individuality, rather than treat them as cogs in a wheel

• The essentially human, face-to-face nature of coaching is what makes it work, and also what makes it nearly impossible to quantify

• Lasting change occurs slowly, one person at a time, gaining momentum as more workers buy in

• It is easier to change senior leaders first, because they will in turn help you to influence subordinates to do the same

Internal versus external

Now that you know how accountability coaches work, the question arises: should you use internal coaches or externals ones?

Internal coaches come from your own employees, and are therefore less expensive than pursuing an outside coaching firm to do the work. The costs involved come with their training and certification, as well as the productivity cost of time spent away from their core job functions. Generally, they should come from different departments than those they are coaching to maintain an outside perspective.

Internal coaches, being employees, are better suited to handle specific projects and lower-level teams rather than trying to handle the C-suite. Their advice just does not carry the same weight of authority as a senior accountability coach from an external firm. They can also experience mission creep by being called to perform duties well beyond what coaches should be doing, or be looked as some sort of staff therapists that everyone vents to.

External coaches are better suited for handling the top echelons of management, and can bring valuable experience from other companies they have worked with. You will pay more for a quality external coach, but no firm we ever have dealt with has regretted the decision to engage the services of a reputable one.

Six Disciplines has both experienced external coaches and a training and certification program for internal coaches in companies employing the Six Disciplines Methodology. If you would like to explore more about how accountability coaching can take your business from good to great, please contact us for a no-obligation consultation.