Great plan, poor results: How to get staff properly mobilized around the right priorities

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 02:09 pm

Most executives are strategic, talented, experienced and persuasive. They know where they want to go and have a plan to achieve success.

So why do those plans sometimes fail to deliver the right results? 

If this has ever happened to you, were any of these situations present?

  • The loudest voice in the meeting derails the agenda so the right discussions did not happen on the right timing.
  • People were working hard but weren’t getting the “right” work done.
  • Cross-functional teams did not share common goals.
  • Deadlines were missed without consequence.
  • Mediocrity was never challenged.
  • Blame was more common than collaboration.
  • The culture lacked a “one team” mentality.
  • Accountability was not fully embraced, so bottlenecks derailed due dates.

These symptoms are nothing more than bad habits that develop when leaders fail to define the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” to the organization in a way that is easy for them to understand. The “What” represents the goals and what needs to be achieved. The “Why” describes the value of the plan and the important contribution it will make to the company. The “How” details the strategy to achieve success.

People who understand the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” have a deeper understanding of what’s important and can buy into the plan for reasons that are meaningful to them. This shifts their mindset from being motivated – which is external and short-term – to being inspired – which is internal and fully committed. 

Committed people strive for greatness regardless of the hurdles and resistance they encounter; they are driven to be and do their best. Imagine the possibilities that can result when you have a team of self-driven, self-managing and fully accountable people. The remarkable can happen.

To assess how empowered your team members are, select three important projects that are important to the company right now. Then ask each of the people working on these projects to anonymously write down, in their own words, their responses to these three questions:

For this project:

  1. What do we want to accomplish?
  2. Why do we want to do this?
  3. What are the desired outcomes?

When you read their responses, do they reflect your definition of the “What,” the “Why” and the “How”? If the answer is “yes,” congratulations! You have done a great job of setting this team up for success. If your response is “no,” then there is some communications and possibly process work to do to close the communication gaps. Ask yourself:

  • Do team members understand the “What,” the “Why” and the “How”?
  • Are they clear about their assignments?
  • Are they working well together?
  • Are timelines defined for each deliverable?
  • Is progress being tracked and accountabilities managed?
  • What disciplines or communications need shoring up?
  • What support is needed from leadership?    

Regularly scheduled project meetings keep people informed and make them accountable. People are often time-challenged, so decide if the update can be provided using a project tracking tool or conference call, or if an in-person meeting is required. If it’s an in-person meeting, insist that people come to the meeting prepared with all of the relevant information and are ready to contribute. 

Following the meeting, send out a note or update the project management file summarizing the meeting outcomes. Be sure to post this information in the same location/file so the team knows where to look for it. 

Now for a reality check. Select several projects from different levels of the organization and determine if:

  • Employees know why they are working on this project and how it helps the company. If not, revisit the project purpose.
  • Team members have the processes and disciplines for managing the project. If not, provide the templates and the appropriate training.
  • Cross-functional communications and personal interactions properly support the work flow.  If you find that gaps exist, create alignment and eliminate redundancy.   
  • Team members are focused on the key priorities. If not, revisit the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” and then empower people to problem-solve and make decisions at the level closest to the situation.
  • Accountability is common practice. When people fall short of expectations, is there a conversation to understand what happened? Are action plans put in place to ensure that this doesn’t become a habit? If this happens repeatedly, are consequences instituted?

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Christine McMahon helps leaders develop strategies and improve speed of execution by developing leadership talent, creating alignment between business functions and improving communications and accountability up, down and across a business. She is co-founder of the Leadership Institute and is in partnership with the WMEP. For keynote presentations, executive coaching, sales and leadership training, she can be reached at: