Be honest. Do you sometimes find that:
👉 Internally, people are not engaged and are pulling in different directions?
👉 It’s difficult to produce meaningful communications?
👉 Customers never seem completely satisfied?
👉 You struggle to attract top talent?
If so, maybe you have an "execution gap". Sounds painful. In brand terms, it is.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
What is an execution gap?
It’s a difference between what a customer or employee expects and what they experience. The reality does not stand up to the promise.
This is highly damaging. Customers will not return. They will share their bad experiences with others. Employees will not be loyal. They will influence their peers and create a toxic culture. The meaning people attach to you and your offer, your brand, will lose all credibility. Fast.
Usually, execution gaps are a symptom of something else. Of a disjointedness. Of a misalignment.
One of the most wicked business problems is that of aligning large groups fo people in order to execute on a simple idea.
Over time businesses often splinter off. Resources are misused. Time is wasted. Usually, this is a leadership problem. People come and go. Hobby horses, personalities and politics arise. Sometimes, even with the best intentions leaders can spend time on things which they just don’t realise are counter-intuitive to the business overall.
It is this that often causes execution gaps to open up in the customer or employee experience.
We can give ‘lip service’ to strategy but if we are honest, the fire-fighting realities of the day to day of managing people and short term targets sometimes eclipse the necessary need to regularly align. And what are we aligning around? How do we get everyone pulling in the same direction?
My answer is "brand thinking" 🙌. Defining the meaning you want your business or organisation to have in the hearts and minds of the customer and ensuring everything ladders into that. Ensuring it is understood what your brand’s purpose is, who its audience is and what it’s point of difference is.
This requires answering the big questions like why do we exist beyond making money?, Who do we exist to serve ?, Why are we different? And then once authentic answers are had to these strategy questions the business and its activities and culture are redesigned to ensure that what is proclaimed is true. There is proof. Evidence.
It starts with leadership. The leaders need to know these answers. Then they then need to commit to design the business around them. Around solving customer problems. On strengthening the tribe. Not simply making money. And it needs to be communicated. To staff. To customers. And it needs to be lived.
The importance of leadership alignment
Without leadership alignment you will never be able to execute anything easily or well. You will waste time and resources. You will end up splintered.
The global analytics and advisory company, Gallup, with its many studies into this area listed “Leadership and Communication” as the first of five drivers of culture-building (see Gallup’s Approach to Culture). Crucially they say “The way an organization’s leaders define, display and communicate an organization’s purpose and brand influences whether employees will exemplify those values, especially with customers.”
For your brand to perform well in the minds of customers you, therefore, need your employees aligned and motivated. Your EX will affect your CX. Everyone needs to understand the basic principles of the brand strategy. They need to be able to connect their work with that purpose.
Initiatives like onboarding, appraisals, training, rewards and routines need to be designed to ensure that brand thinking is top of mind. Initiatives need to all ladder into the brand purpose. And this is not simply something for staff. Leaders to need to design the way forward for themselves. How are they going to hold themselves accountable? If a new member should join the leadership team how will the brand purpose, values, audience and differentiations be communicated and perpetuated?
A 2019 study (“The State of Employee Engagement in 2019”) by GLINT asked over 500+ businesses what made their employees engage with company initiatives. Amazingly, 80% of respondents believed that engagement was highly linked to trust in leadership.
Aligned leadership is therefore crucial. And then connecting staff with that aligned vision is also crucial.
The high and lofty thinking of brand positioning and connecting tangible targets and assets to that by which the business can hold itself accountable should therefore not be something which is left to lip service. And most of the time businesses are doing just that. Giving strategy lip service.
In a MIT Sloan School survey of more than 4000 managers, it was found that only 28% of the leaders surveyed could correctly list three of their firms’ top strategic priorities.
We have a disconnect between strategy and execution. The execution gap. What could we use to close the gap? Thats when brand thinking comes into play. It becomes the glue to stick strategy to reality. Done properly, in an engaged way, it creates meaning. It makes a business meaningful. It’s the 'Trojan Horse' that brings alignment. For leaders, employees and ultimately for customers.
What does success look like?
Success is truth. Strategy connected to execution. Experiences that truly live up to expectations - for customers and employees.
You know when you have removed the gap when something like this happens (WARNING: classic story coming up 😆)
There is a wonderful and classic story which illustrates this. Back in 1961 President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time. Whilst being given a tour of the facility, he met a janitor mopping the floor. Kennedy asked him what he did at NASA. - The janitor cheerfully responded - “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”.
That is an example of the power of closing the execution gap. Employees connected with the brand purpose. With the vision. And seeing their part in helping it become a reality.
In the Janitor’s mind, there was no gap between what he was doing (execution) and of the purpose of the NASA brand. Good brand strategy will bring this kind of alignment - for your leaders. And your people. And your customers.
Three Phases To Alignment.
If you recognise the splintered disconnect in your business what can you do about it? Obviously, each business and situation is different but I always propose a simple 3 phase approach. I call it the “3D” roadmap.
Define - work needs to be done to establish truth and the need for change. Truth of disfunction. Truth of customer or employee frustration. Truth of the execution gap. This can be done via surveys, interviews and focus groups.
Define - define what success looks like. Define the Why, How, Who and What of the brand. Answer the big questions. This initially needs to be done by a leadership team but may also involve the organisation as a whole to get wider engagement and buy-in with the process.
Deliver - this is where we design the future. Design how we will hold ourselves accountable. Design the way we will prove that the things we say are what we are trying to do. Design the rewards, routines and reminders we will need to keep us on track - as leaders and as a company. Design how we communicate with customers. Design their experiences and a way to check in with them to ensure we are living up to our promises. And design how we communicate it within to our employees and teams.
So - this is the case for focused leadership brand alignment. Good luck defining your brand and designing your culture and customer experience so that you don’t just talk the talk - but walk the walk.