Effective Execution: 7 reasons why leadership teams fail
Written by
Mike McKenzie
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Effective Execution: 7 reasons why leadership teams fail

I’ve spent much of my career listening to business owners talk confidently about the Growth Potential of their business. Yet the vast majority of them struggle when it comes to building a cohesive team that can unlock that potential.

Where there is a documented growth strategy, it often lacks clarity and conviction. Leadership Alignment is low, effective board meetings are rare, and the plan is poorly executed. The senior team quickly falls into bad leadership habits and routinely fails to deliver profitable and sustainable business growth.

My own experiences are consistent with the multiple research projects that have been conducted over the last 20 years. A 2016 study concluded that 67% of well-formulated growth strategies failed due to poor strategy execution. A review of all major studies would suggest that between 50% and 90% of strategies fail to be implemented. Whilst some purists argue with some of the more extreme research findings, it is plain to see that the vast majority of businesses struggle with effective execution.

Put simply, no matter how great your Growth Potential is, it’s the leadership team’s ability to realise this potential that ultimately determines business success.

This demands focus, discipline and a commitment to action. It requires an ability to combine cash with the confidence to take controlled risks. It relies on the right leadership skills and experience to make well-informed, timely decisions. Sadly, all this is undermined when the business owner fails to build a cohesive team and everyone starts pulling in different directions.

Effective Execution

In the Quarterli® leadership alignment tool, there are seven success factors that influence your Effective Execution rating. These seven Growth Probability Indicators (GPIs) help determine whether you and your executive team have what it takes to maximise Shareholder Value:

Quarterli supports team cohesion and effective leadership

GPI 7. Appetite for Risk/Effort

Are you all on the same page?

Work/life balance is important, but I haven't seen many successful businesses achieve sustained, profitable growth when the leadership team sticks to a strict nine-to-five shift and won't take calculated financial risks.

A multitude of factors, both inside and outside the world of work, will influence how much time and effort you are personally prepared to invest to fulfil your organisation's growth potential. If you are the business owner, then the same applies to the amount of financial risk you are prepared to take.

Even in successful small businesses, these factors will change over time, so this area can be a 'minefield' if there are multiple shareholder directors and/or family members involved. Your fellow shareholders may now be at a very different stage of life to you, have a different attitude to risk or simply be seeking a different work/life balance.

I have lost count of the number of challenges I've seen that stem from this single underlying issue. This can be addressed, often with a small amount of outside help, but don't let it fester! 'Sweeping it under the carpet' will only build frustration and undermine your chances of success.

Even if everyone is in tune, it pays to make sure that your appetite for risk and/or effort also aligns with your growth goals.

GPI 8. Management Capability

What got you here probably won't get you there!

You might be part of a great board of directors that has got you to where you are today. However, that does not necessarily mean that the same senior team can get you to where you want to be.

It defies logic to make this assumption, yet this happens in many growing organisations. There are countless, hardworking people in senior positions whose areas of accountability will soon outgrow their capabilities and qualifications. They may have done a fantastic job so far but they and your business risk being exposed as you grow further.

Effective leadership means addressing this even in a small family business. And this doesn't just apply inside your organisation - it might apply to your accountant, bookkeeper, solicitor, consultant, non-exec etc.

You may want to show loyalty but that could be at the expense of the organisation and/or the individual. Will the inevitable stresses of being unable to cope really help you or them in the medium term?

You can't address this until you have a clear view of the professionals that you need inside and outside your business and a plan for how you will attract and/or develop this new talent as the business scales. This senior team development plan must also address how to help those who will need to be freed from (or better supported in) some of their current responsibilities.

These individuals will often breathe a huge sigh of relief when you finally broker the conversation.

GPI 9. Debates & Decisions

The elephant in the room!

Many organisations fall into bad habits when it comes to management meetings, quarterly boards and 'off-sites'. Things get stale and the quality of the discussion weakens over time.

Quarterli can help deliver more effective board meetings.jpg

This can have a direct impact on the quantity and quality of the decisions being made. Some board members seem to forget how to listen to their fellow directors. They think they've heard it all before, so instead of listening, they are preparing what they are going to say next.

Meetings become less a place for enlightened discussions and more a stage where people come to perform. They drag in their usual 'baggage' and 'soapboxes' and then drag them out again at the end, ready for the next meeting. In the very worst cases, certain discussions are simply avoided, which can only weaken the organisation over the long term.

Put simply, a business can only get stronger if the senior team can express and listen to different views and explore them in a constructive manner before reaching a decision. This ‘healthy conflict’ is essential to leadership team cohesion. But once a decision is made, it's critical to then present a united front to the rest of the organisation.

GPI 10. Planning & Performance

A plan for all seasons?

Some organisations don't have a meaningful Business Plan; others get bogged down in a cumbersome strategic planning process and it becomes the main deliverable of the year.

The most important thing to note about any business growth strategy is that it will have very little effect until it is implemented! So, it's important to agree and monitor a plan that covers short, medium and long-term goals.

However complex or concise your plan is, it's crucial to measure performance at both departmental and individual levels. That way you can learn from what you do; improve target setting, address training needs and 'correct your course' as things inevitably change.

Worryingly, far too many organisations have a culture where failure to deliver the plan becomes the norm.

So, if a department or senior individual accepts but then routinely fails to deliver targets, then this must be addressed. If you just 'roll your eyes' and accept it then, not only will it continue, it will most likely 'infect' the whole organisation.

GPI 11. Risk Management

A chance worth taking?

Quarterli helps you recognise and manage risks more effectively.jpg

Sustained growth doesn't come without risk. Managing this risk isn't a precise science but thankfully, many risks can be eliminated, minimised, shared or transferred with a bit of advanced planning.

Every organisation has external risks. For example, changes in legislation or raw material prices or an aggressive move by a competitor who might target a key customer or infringe your trademark.

Organisations also have internal risks. For example, the loss of a key employee or the failure of a critical piece of machinery or disclosure of confidential information.

The importance of proactively managing these risks increases as a business grows. Yet, from my experience, many growing organisations fail to even discuss, let alone document, assess, prioritise and, where possible, mitigate these risks.

Do you discuss and rate risks in terms of their ‘Likelihood’ of occurring and the ‘Impact’ on the business if they do happen? Do you agree and document your approach to mitigating each of these risks? Do you review this regularly?

GPI 12. Cash

Cash is King!

Decades on, I still vividly recall one of my MBA lecturers drumming home the message 'Cash is King' every Friday morning. That expression is never more true than in a growing business.

All growing businesses need cash - and as they accelerate their growth, they need even more cash. So, unless you and your fellow shareholders have very deep pockets, you will need to find 'fuel' for your growth journey. As a starting point, you must be able to model your future cash flows to understand when you will need cash and for how long.

There are many ways of getting this 'fuel' from bank loans, invoice discounting and grants to investment by Angels, Venture Capitalists or 'The Crowd'.

Whatever your preferred option, it will be difficult to secure many of these without first preparing a compelling growth plan. I hear a lot of senior teams talking vaguely about 'getting some funding' but this will be of little practical use when that time comes.

Start to build a picture of the financing options available and weigh up what might be right for your business and in what order. There are pros and cons for each route, so speak to your accountant and a variety of experts.

Whatever you do, don't just follow what a fellow business leader has done. Just because it's right for them does not mean it's right for you and your business.

GPI 13. Shared View

Are you driving with the brakes on?

Quarterli Improves Team Cohesion and Executive Team Alignment

Every organisation's chances of success are improved when a cohesive leadership team builds a shared view of the business; its capabilities, its opportunities and its priorities.

Of course, you want to hear different opinions and have healthy conflict but, if that doesn't ultimately result in a shared commitment and accountability for common goals, then you are 'driving with the brakes on'.

Working on the business not in the business in order to improve leadership team alignment often represents the single biggest challenge for any business that aspires to grow. If you believe that the others in your senior team don't have a shared view of where things stand today, then it will be virtually impossible to make meaningful progress in the right direction.

At best, it slows progress like an invisible anchor. At worst, it creates a 'hole below the waterline' that will ultimately sink the ship!

The Growth Probability Matrix

These are 7 of the 13 Growth Probability Indicators used in the Growth Probability Matrix™.

These 7 GPIs establish where you organisation sits on the vertical Effective Execution axis. The remaining 6 GPIs dictate your position on the horizontal Growth Potential axis.


Quarterli® is based on the Growth Probability Matrix TM. It’s a unique Leadership Alignment tool that is designed to help business owners instil better leadership habits and increase team cohesion.

A short introspection, based on 13 Growth Probability Indicators, helps you and the whole leadership team reflect on your chances of success and explore what might be holding you back.

It’s more than just a business health check, it supports executive development by creating a powerful new routine for the senior team. It helps build a shared view of what needs to be done and introduces a routine that keeps everyone pulling in the same direction.

Quarterli® lets you set your own rhythm.

For some complex or fast moving organisations, a quarterly survey works best but, for others, once a year is enough. That's why Quarterli® has adopted a Pay As You Go (PAYG) approach rather than a regular subscription. This makes it affordable for all. See our simple PAYG pricing.

Quarterli® is designed to keep things simple so that you can lead this process in your organisation without the need for expensive external support. This makes it both affordable and sustainable. 

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I've never heard of the Growth Probability Matrix. What is it?
I've never heard of the Growth Probability Matrix. What is it?
The Growth Probability Matrix™ cuts through the often-overwhelming amount of business advice out there and proposes just two fundamental levers that can be used to improve your chances of success. The Matrix draws a crucial distinction between the Growth Potential of your business and the ability of the senior team to unlock this potential through Effective Execution. Both are key to shareholder value, but one is often (subconsciously) prioritised over the other. Download The Growth Probability Matrix eBook to find out more.
Who else can see the results of each survey and our Leadership Alignment results?
Who else can see the results of my personal introspections and my senior team survey results?
No-one. The scores and comments are for your eyes only, unless you choose to share them. Quarterli® generates all results automatically without any human intervention.

The system also automatically generates the live Matrix from the aggregated result of all surveys done worldwide. It updates every night and is designed to give some comfort to business leaders that their peers do not always rate their business as "Full Steam Ahead". I.e. many are in the same boat and are committed to improving the way they and their senior teams work 'on the business'.
How will using Quarterli® help us as a leadership team.
How will using Quarterli® help us as a leadership team.
The simplicity of the Matrix helps bring clarity to your thinking, even when embroiled in the day to day. This means you make better decisions. Once adopted by the whole senior team, it brings a common language and establishes a shared view of where the business stands today and what needs to change. It encourages a quarterly rhythm that changes the way senior teams think, speak and act, and dramatically improves your chances of success. Download The Quarterli® Habit eBook to find out more.

Quarterli® is designed to put you in control of your growth journey. Business leaders worldwide can access it at a fraction of the cost of hiring a Management Consultant.
Does Quarterli® remove the need for consultancy?
Does Quarterli® remove the need for consultancy?
No. Quarterli® is not designed to replace good consultancy, but it is there to help business leaders take back control and use consultancy in a more efficient and effective manner: Too many CEOs, Managing Directors and Business Owners effectively outsource their growth strategy and/or their 'on the business' activity. Consultancies are only too pleased to feast on this over weeks, months and years but it rarely delivers full value for the business leader and can hamper the development of the senior team.

Highly skilled consultants can add huge value to your business and Quarterli® introduces a structured approach that can help you become a better buyer of these specialists. You might actually end up using more consultancy but in shorter, sharper doses designed to deliver well-defined outcomes that Quarterli® will help you describe and measure.
Does that mean you are going to use this to sell me consultancy?
Does that mean you are going to use this to sell me consultancy?
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