The challenges and pitfalls to fully executing business plans are well known and commonly experienced by managers. Most CEO’s will admit they’re much better at the planning process than with what happens after the off-site.

If a key to executing well is a staff that’s engaged, how do managers get that commitment with individuals? In our execution management advisory work we have managers askProgress meeting resized 600 their employees to create their own performance agreements. This is more than a subtle difference from handing out a job description or a "telling" conversation.

The Harvard Business Review article “Promise-Based Management,” written by Donald N. Sull and Charles Spinosa called “promise-based management the essence of execution.”  As Sull and Spinosa noted “improperly executed strategy, lack of organizational agility, disengaged employees, and so on – stem from broken or poorly crafted commitments. Practicing promised-based management is about cultivating and coordinating commitments in a systematic way.”

They found that “organizations that engender well-made reliable promises create a sense of community among workers – that is, people promise to do things because they buy in to the company’s overall mission and priorities and see their part in making things happen.”

Do employees understand their connection to the organization's goals?

Research with hundreds of companies commissioned by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling for their 2012 book The 4 Disciplines of Execution found:

  • Only 15%, or 1 in 7 could even name one of their organization’s goals
  • Only 51% said they were passionate about the team’s goals
  • 81% said they weren’t held accountable for regular progress on goals
  • 87% said they had no clear idea what they should do to achieve a goal.

How can we expect to close the gap between creating a strategy and making it happen without addressing such confusion in the ranks?

A manager asking for and receiving commitments or promises from employees achieves greater understanding through that process, than any “telling” a manager can do.

Our work in this field reminds us that execution happens at the individual level. You build this feeling of commitment in individuals, individually. Without specifically defining an individual's job in terms of its connection to the company's top priorities, you lose people. You won't get that execution individually and by extension organizationally.

How do you go about obtaining promises from individuals? We recommend the use of Performance Agreements. Performance agreements should align the employee's goals with the company's top priorities. They should briefly outline the outcomes we count on from that individual's job. For more on the process, download our white paper below.

Topics: engaged people, staff buyin, organizational health, accountability, execution, staff buy in

Thomas Krekel

Written by Thomas Krekel