The People Factor

Ed Boswell, CEO of The Forum Corporation and researcher, thinks organizations may need to “slow down in order to speed up” strategy execution.

Boswell isn’t the average CEO—he does have some formal business education, but his academic background also includes a Master’s and Ph.D. in psychology.  He’s the quintessential integrative thinker, which shines through in Strategic Speed: Mobilizing People, Accelerate Execution.

His research shows only 30% of strategic initiatives have been successfully executed over the last twenty years—a problem largely attributed to one common missing ingredient: “the people factor.”  He delineates the people factor into three critical components:

  1. Clarity: shared understanding of what the new strategy is all about or what the initiative is trying to accomplish
  2. Unity: everyone is whole-heartedly committed to achieving those goals and working together
  3. Agility: an organization’s flexibility to fine-tune, tweak, or even change the strategic plan if conditions require

The research further suggests the people factor—when combined with an attention to pace and attention to process—is the path to strategic speed and successful execution.

The bottom line is that executing strategy is hard, and executing in the public education sector is harder.  Sometimes leaders must step back, reassess, and simplify.  Remember, platitudes and complex, jargon-filled documents don’t move organizations forward.  People do.

Comments 5

  1. Meghan Groome September 2, 2010

    Agreed Chad and I would add creating a critical feedback loop that works for the individual and the organization is critical. How do you know what is working, people’s response to it, and setting early, middle, and late goals helps to move through an execution strategy. It’s also important to recognize who on your team is good at ideation, details, task masters, and finishers helps to avoid the “squishy middle” that accompanies most plans. Finally, always have a skeptic or the token “jerk” in the room who will question every assumption and claim that you make.


  2. Chad Ratliff September 2, 2010

    Meghan, great points. Especially love the “squishy middle”–perfect description. The trick, I think, for innovative school districts is establishing a culture of collaboration vs a culture of committees. Not easy. Unlike most organizations, stakeholders in this sector are, well, everybody. Big decisions can set off chain reactions through entire communities and it’s simply impossible to satisfy all affected parties. Determining the right mixture of people, pace, and process is one of the greatest challenges. Effective communication is critical–internally and externally.

    Steve, thanks for commenting. Love the work you guys do. Agility is probably the toughest area to address in the public sector. The external factors I mentioned to Meghan, plus inertia, creates quite a force.


  3. Pingback: School reform: you want ideas? we got ideas «

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