“We just don’t have a culture of execution…”

At Karrikins, we hear these words frequently. Leaders tend to strive for a ‘culture of execution’ in order to meet growth goals. Interestingly, we have often found this assessment to be mistaken. It’s not that you don’t have a culture of execution, it’s that you don’t have alignment. You may have achieved agreement for the future state and growth goals, but it’s that you haven’t aligned on how to change decisions, behaviors, and resources to get there.

Peter dives into a brief ‘litmus’ test we use to help illuminate if executive teams sit in agreement or alignment.


Video Transcription

Hi, it’s Peter Sheahan again, Founder and CEO of Karrikins Group. As a behavior change company that really helps you transform your business, we get to learn some really fascinating things about what really accelerates transformation, what accelerates growth at companies, and what doesn’t.

And, what happens to us a lot, is we get on the phone with a Chief Executive or a Senior Leadership Team or even just a Team Leader who says: “You know, I’ve got alignment, but I just don’t seem to have a culture of execution.”

We’re like: “What do you mean you don’t have a culture of execution?”

[Client]: …”I’ve clearly told people what to do and I’ve communicated clearly where we want to go and there’s absolutely no change.”

We provoke them and say: “you clearly don’t have alignment with where you’re trying to get to.”

…”no, no, we’ve got alignment, we just don’t have a culture of execution.”

And I actually think: 1) they’re wrong, and 2) a culture of execution will naturally flow out of true alignment.

What most leaders find when you shine a mirror up to them and show them what’s really happening to them and their teams, they don’t actually have alignment, they generally have agreement – not alignment.

They have some loosely—or even well-defined—abstract vision of where they’re trying to take their team, where they’re trying to take their business that basically everyone understands. And they assume that because we understand the future state, that they have alignment. No. You just have agreement on what the future state is. You might not even have agreement that they want to go on the journey to create it [that future state]. And if you don’t have that, then you definitely don’t have alignment.

Turns out, it’s not just the future state that matters, you need to also understand the current state, like where are we now and how far away are we from that future state.

But true alignment is when there is shared understanding and unequivocal commitment to closing the gap between the current and the future state.

And that the shared understanding is grounded in some reality, it can’t be that people believe this is going to be easy and that they can keep doing things basically the way they’ve always done it and you’ll automatically manifest through the ‘law of attraction’ this new vision – that’s just really not how it happens.

That shared understanding has to have a true representation of the gap between where we are now and where we want to be, and it has to have unequivocal commitment to making it happen.

So, if you don’t have a “culture of execution” then I guarantee you, that you don’t have alignment.

So, there’s a little bit of a test that we use with our clients to help us understand whether they are in agreement, or whether they are are in alignment. It’s pretty simple, so number one:

1. Awareness vs. Ownership

If you are in agreement, then basically you are aware of the change in disruption that you face, but you haven’t taken full ownership for your responsibility to do something about that change and disruption. (Here’s the video that Pete mentions on Awareness to Ownership!)

Awareness is ‘we can see it happening, but I don’t really believe that I have to do something about it’ … ‘it’s not a problem that we have to deal with today.’

If you’re in awareness and not in ownership, then you’re probably in agreement not alignment.

From an emotional perspective, if you’re in agreement then you probably have what is called ‘passive dissent,’ and if you’re married, you’re probably familiar with this behavior at home as well. It’s when people nod their head in all the right places; “yeah we should go create that value! Let’s become the firm of the future! Let’s be <insert inspiring vision here>.”

But when they go back to their offices they’re like “Oh my gosh our CEO is out of his mind” or “she doesn’t really know what’s going on” or they begin to pick apart the strategy as soon as they get out of the room.

They are dissenting, but it’s passive. It’s sort of behind of closed doors and in hallways. It’s extremely destructive by the way.

2. Active vs. Passive Dissent

If you’re in alignment, that dissent is happening in the room. You’re having healthy, robust debate. Full-blown, hands-down arguments if you need to about whether you’ve picked the right vision, about what the real current sate is, and what its’ going to take to close it.

Because if you can have the dissent as active and, in the room, then you can all agree to align when you leave that room.

As in, even if you don’t think the strategy is right as a member of the team you’re 100% onboard and you’re unequivocally committed to it. And there is no confusion about what it is really going to take to close the gap.

You can’t do that if [dissent] if passive, you can only do this if it [dissent] is active.

If you are in agreement, and not alignment. If you’re agreement, then your activities (following the establishment of your leadership aspiration), your activities (following whatever meeting or context we’re talking about) are basically the same. You continue to work harder, and harder, and you get busier, and busier, and busier doing exactly the same stuff you’ve always done.

That’s because you’re in agreement.

Because agreement doesn’t force behavior change, alignment does.

If you’re in alignment, you’re engaging in new behaviors – some of them are clunky, and you’re learning new skills and you’re starting to understand your market in whole new ways.

You’re also not doing certain things.

3. Working Hard vs. Doing the Hard Work

You’re quite literally de-selecting. Your behavior is not to work hard, your behavior is to do the hard work. To really move towards the future, to learn at the edge of disruption, to begin taking the risks to create and promote the models of the future.

If you’re in awareness, you can just keep doing what you’ve always done – but if you’re in alignment, then it’s forcing some kind of change.

4. Everything Fits vs. De-selection

The truth is you can’t just add all this as net-new to what you’re already doing, you have to let go of some stuff to create capacity. So, if you’re in awareness, nothing is being let go of, there is no de-selection happening, but if you’re in alignment you’re not just taking on new stuff, you’re abandoning old things, things that no longer serve you. Things that represent the world as it used to exist, that don’t represent the world as it’s going to exist.

So, when you think of awareness agreement versus alignment, where do you think you really are? If you’re challenged with a culture of execution, if people ‘seem to get it’ but just don’t want to follow-up with the behavior and follow-up with the change, where do you think you are really are?

Are you stuck in agreement, or are you at alignment?

And if you’re in agreement, then you need to get on to sharing that understanding of the gap between the current state and the future state and you need to make sure it drives new behaviors, forces your team to do the hard work, not just work hard, and you need to make sure that the clarity of what you define is driving de-selection – because they need capacity to do those new things


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