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Jonathan Kettleborough

Corollis Limited

Managing Director

Read more from Jonathan Kettleborough

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The power and value of execution pt1

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In the first of six articles, Jonathan Kettleborough looks at one of the key ingredients for a successful L&D department – the ability to execute and deliver on promises – and do this time and time again.

“Strategy gets you on the playing field, but execution pays the bills."

- Gordon Eubanks, microcomputer industry pioneer who worked in the early days of digital research

I adore this quote. When writing articles it’s never easy to find quotes that are direct, pithy and new. But Gordon’s has it all.

For many L&D professionals the focus on developing strategies seems to be paramount. Strategies are the sexy end of L&D, strategies have all the buzzwords, strategies are cool and you earn far more money if your job title has the word 'strategy' in it – being a trainer is one thing, but a strategic trainer – now you’re talking! But having a great strategy is of little use if you do nothing with it.

A number of L&D professionals are relatively quick to adopt and implement new technologies and practices, although sometimes I wonder how many of these are truly introduced for the right reasons rather than being either some kind of knee-jerk reaction to please senior management, or perhaps worse still, to please yourself.

I’ll admit that I’m speaking from the heart here, but over the years I’ve seen so many L&D fads tried and then put to one side that I often wonder how much real ‘doing’ L&D professionals manage to achieve in a given period of time. This may sound harsh, but for the most part I see the same faces are attending the same conferences tweeting similar stuff year after year. Some attend conferences and seminars and webinars with such regularity that I wonder when the work gets done. Industrial tourism is fine but as L&D professionals the number one thing we must do is deliver to our business – we must execute in line with our promises and the expectations of the business we support.

"Sometimes I wonder how many [new practices] are truly introduced for the right reasons rather than being either some kind of knee-jerk reaction to please senior management"

Here’s a little teaser for you.  Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? Answer: five. Why? Because there’s a massive difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

In this series I’ll be looking at the issues of execution and making sure that as L&D professionals you actually deliver on your strategies and promises. Before we go any further let’s be really clear about one thing: A failure to deliver is a failure.

This may seem harsh but there is no other way of looking at it. As L&D professionals we absolutely must deliver on our promises. We must execute as planned – both in terms of time, resources and outcomes. Being 'close enough' is no longer acceptable – we must deliver flawless execution, time and time again.

There are three key issues that L&D professionals need to focus on to ensure they execute flawlessly:

  • always deliver to meet expectations
  • make sure the front line is really empowered, and
  • work tirelessly to improve productivity and eliminate excess waste

Each article will work through one of the above, so let’s get started and see how you can begin to execute as flawlessly as possible.

Always deliver to meet expectations

According to Matt Haig’s book 'Brand Failures, "Henry Ford mastered mass production; McDonald’s has mastered mass service production. It has done so through strict adherence to simple beliefs - quality, cleanliness and uniformity."

I’m not here to promote McDonald’s. I mention this example for a very good reason; McDonald’s continually ensures that delivery meets expectations. When you go into a McDonald’s or use the drive-through, you know exactly what you’re going to get. The organisation works exceptionally hard to ensure that delivery meets the customer’s expectation, time after time after time. But can the same be said for your L&D department?

Step back for a moment and answer the following as honestly as you possibly can. Have you ever had the conversation with someone in your business or with a customer when part way through the discussion the person you’re talking to says the words that fill any L&D Professional with dread... ‘Well, that’s not what I expected!’ Be honest, have you? Maybe, yes?

Meeting expectations should be your number one goal – anything less is a failure. Clearly you can only meet expectations if you have a thorough and clear understanding of what’s required – and that means gaining a deep understanding about what your business, and the people within it need. Spend time with the senior people within your business and really understand what they need. Make sure you thoroughly understand the business strategy and that you ask the 'why' questions as often as you can to get deep into the psyche of the business.

Jonathan Kettleborough has over 25 years’ experience in the learning and development profession. He has held senior positions and worked with clients in the nuclear, retail, financial services, stockbroking, business and technology services, telecommunications, government and integrated learning. Jonathan can be contacted via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Jonathan’s new book, Seeing Eye to Eye is available via Amazon and a number of other major online booksellers in hardback, softback and all major electronic formats

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Jonathan Kettleborough

Managing Director

Read more from Jonathan Kettleborough
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