Driving Action is an essential competency SOLID identified as one of the most critical to executive success. We categorize it as an Execution competency within our 5-categories of executive competency model, which is explained and downloadable at the end of this article. In summary, executives need to be adept at:
E2. DRIVING ACTION: Increasing drive toward action; generating more action; making things happen more quickly; driving the action of others; developing written goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, related to mission and on a timetable.
The executive with high competency in this area has likely achieved a great deal of success. Their position requires them to know how to create goals, take consistent action, and reach intended outcomes in a timely manner. They must demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness, be proactive, and know how to maximize team efforts.
Personal ability to drive action, however, is not enough to demonstrate proficiency in this competency. Beyond having a tremendous drive to get things done, the executive must know how to make things happen – quickly – and through team effort. In fact, over-reliance on their own skills turns their strength into a weakness. We have found most executives are competent at driving personal action – we see this as table stakes to even be in the executive world. However, it is much more difficult to build a motivated team that performs at a high level and drives action with the same passion and focus as the executive. This is where the magic takes place. All executives, no matter how good their ability to personally drive action, must continually work to improve their ability to drive action through high performance teamwork.
BIAS TOWARD ACTION
While Driving Action can be either proactive or reactive, the critical ingredient is a bias toward action. The executive must quickly react to business challenges and opportunities as they present themselves, as well as proactively anticipating barriers and obstacles along the way. The executive who is highly competent at Driving Action is therefore responsive to the unexpected. In addition, they anticipate potential setbacks and carve out paths to overcome unforeseen challenges. Above all, they have a strong bias to take action.
RIGHT ACTION VS FLAILING
Taking the right action is both an art and a science. Executives who take action for the sake of action, act impulsively, or are inconsistent in the direction of their action, are not exhibiting the Driving Action competency. Executives must be able to find the right balance between thoughtful analysis and drive to make things happen. It is essential to make wise decisions about what actions to take, and when. Action for the sake of action is as bad as no action at all. Often, the best action to analyze what action to take. We believe in this saying, worth remembering: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Sometimes, in order to speed up, the executive needs to slow down. And sometimes, call a “time-out.” Great executives know when to act, and when to plan. They never flail.
RIGHT ACTION CREATE RIGHT OUTCOMES
In their book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done”, Larry Bossidy, former chairman and CEO of Honeywell, and Ram Charan, a leading CEO coach, identify seven essential behaviors for an executive in charge of execution1:
- Know your people and your business.
- Insist on realism.
- Set clear goals and priorities.
- Follow through.
- Reward the doers.
- Expand people’s capabilities.
- Know yourself.
Right outcomes are the acid test of right actions. There is little reward in reaching an outcome if it is not in alignment with the organizational mission. The chosen outcome should create growth, be deemed effective, and be given proper priority in relationship to other initiatives. There must be a strategy to follow, along with the ability to course-correct, in order for the goal to be reached efficiently. For this reason, Driving Action often follows a pattern of test and retest, analyzing results, and adjusting to ensure right outcomes are achieved. Driving Actions is a complex formula that starts with a strong bias to make things happen but ends with careful consideration of many factors.
DRIVING ACTIONS OF OTHERS
Executives are required to lead others to drive actions as well. The executive’s ability to influence his or her team to drive action is essential to achieving high levels of efficiency and productivity. At the core of this competency is the executive’s ability to create an environment that is motivating and conducive for others to have a bias toward action.
Dwight Eisenhower said, “Motivation is the art of getting others to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” This is a key skill of executives who are effective at Driving Action. This is easy when dealing with high potential over-achievers with a natural bias toward action – they have good instincts on which actions to take, and when. The greater challenge comes in when the executive is dealing with low achievers. Frustration over the inaction of others is common, and there is no easy, succinct answer to supply here. The executive must either invest in developing the low achievers or promote them to a new employer. Failure to do so will cause team motivation, morale, and achievement issues. The ability to drive the right actions of others is often equated with leadership, as it requires leading a team to drive themselves and others to take right actions.
SETTING SMARTER GOALS
One of the primary tools the executive uses for Driving Action is the act of setting goals for self and others. Being able to set achievable goals, both for themselves and their team, allows the executive to better predict outcomes. Both internal and external barriers can prevent anyone from meeting their goals, so work may need to be done to eliminate them, however, each person is and must be their own source of motivation for goal attainment. To learn more about SMARTER goals, their barriers and how to overcome them, read “Goal Attainment for Leaders”.
Why Does this Competency Matter?
Table stakes for being an executive is the ability to drive action. When an executive sets a goal or expectation, and it isn’t met, it is often very noticeable. Executives with high levels of competency in Driving Action rarely experience this issue because they are great at follow up, ensuring their team is also Driving Action. To once again quote Bossidy and Charan: “Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously.2” Without follow through, the executive will likely see a lack of achievement from their team and fail to meet organizational goals. Therefore, this is one of the most critical competencies for an executive.
Discovering this Strength
To discover this strength, the executive needs to ask themselves the following questions:
- To what degree to I have a bias toward action? (Very Low; Low, Moderate, High, Very High)
- To what degree am I able to lead my team to have a bias toward right action?
- How effective am I in driving actions upward? With peers? With external stakeholders? With direct reports?
- How effective are my direct reports in driving action?
- How clear is my goal setting?
- How good is my follow up when driving actions?
When the executive explores and refines this strength it leads to better execution and the executive is bound to accomplish greater results.
Wayne Huizenga, Founder of Waste Management, Inc. and AutoNation said, “Some people dream of success while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” Competency in Driving Action will equip executives with the ability to improve performance by being aware of it, course correcting, being proactive, and creating solutions for high efficiency. These executives won’t wait for solutions, they build them.
Our Competency Model
The SOLID Competency Model is based on two decades of research. It is founded on the premise that all executive competencies can be categorized into these five groupings: Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Executives must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their roles. This model is useful for gauging and quantifying your skill set, understanding what it takes to be an effective executive, and providing a framework for improving performance. For more information, download “Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive.”
Looking constructively at yourself isn’t easy but doing so provides the catalyst for transformational change. Having a balanced, objective look at your skill set and a willingness to be self-critical for the sake of continuous improvement is a major marker of a top executive. Take the next step and download “Eliminate Executive Blind Spots” to explore your strengths and weaknesses, and remove any blind spots you may have.
- Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. (Currency 2002), pg 57.
- Bossidy and Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. pg 127.