Nilofer Merchant aims to give us a roadmap for closing the gap between strategy and execution. In other words, to close the gap between those high up in the sky giving direction and those working on the ground.
How to make an air sandwich.
Merchant calls this disconnect between strategy and execution an air sandwich . He states that there are three systematic issues that cause an air sandwich.
First, people get tunnel vision. They don’t step beyond the jobs they are hired to do. Second, is people getting ahead of themselves. People focus on doing without a focus on shared thinking. Finally, the last pattern of failure is the “it’s not my job” routine. it's seeing a problem that should be solved knowing that you should do something about it, but deciding that you won’t take action.
Now that we know all the causes of the air sandwich, it's time to figure out what to do about it
Phase 1 - Questions
First, we need to understand if we’re asking the right questions. The first thing we’re going to do is identify the scope of the problem. Second, we go on a fact finding mission. The important part in this stage is to talk to as many people as you can who will have input into the issue. Through this, you’ll get a better sense of how things look from different perspectives. Now, you’ll have to share what you found with your team. Merchant says to organize your findings in the following ways:
- What is known and can be confirmed.
- What you believe but don’t have enough facts to confirm.
- What you doubt.
- What doesn’t fit.
Remember that you're not jumping to conclusions at this point. Once this phase is finished you can go to phase 2—Vision
Phase 2 - Vision
Merchant says that a vision aims to answer the question, “what is the right set of options for you given your problem in a particular set of circumstances.” There are two short and sweet steps to this phase—developing a rich set of options, and a tracking criteria that will be used to shape decisions in the second phase.
The goal in this phase is to involve people from all levels of the organization and explore as many angles as you can. Your job as a leader is to ensure that there’s a safe environment for others to share their ideas, but don’t be so focused on creating that safe environment that you don’t produce any productive conflict.
Remember, even if what comes out of the other end of the process will not surprise you as the CEO, it’s about creating an enormous amount of alignment towards a joint goal, and the details that are going to need to be covered
Phase 3 - Select
Merchant says, “most organizations can align with only a certain number of efforts at a time.” Thus, figuring out which vehicles or which strategies are options not to take, is also key.
The goal here is to optimize your decision. This is about finding the best possible option within a predefined set of criteria which also happens to include time.
Phase 4 - Take
Take is where the rubber meets the road. We all come to an agreement about who owns what in clear and measurable terms. Here are some questions you can ask them that might make this step crystal clear for you and your team.
- What key things do you need to do to make this a reality?
- Do you need to change anything organizationally to make it happen?
- What specific dependencies do you have on deliverables from other groups?
- And what risks do we need to account for?
It doesn’t really matter which form you get all the details in as long as you revisit them consistently and always question your assumptions.
There is a huge gap between strategy and execution for most organizations.
Make sure that you follow these steps. But also reward your team members who take the challenge up with you. Your entire team will thank you and so will your shareholders, whoever they are.