Put Managers Back in the Driver’s Seat

May 11, 2010
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I recently met in Brussels with Jeroen de Flanders, co-founder of the performance factory, a research and advisory firm which is solely focused on helping organizations increase performance through best-in-class strategy execution. Jeroen and I first met in a Linkedin.com discussion group. I became intrigued in further dialoging with him because, if you noticed, the subtitle of my recent book, Performance Management, refers to strategy execution, not to strategy formulation. My belief is executives are reasonably good at defining their strategy. Their frustration is making it happen – implementing their strategy.

Jeroen said something during our meeting that caught my attention. He said, “Organizations need to put managers back in the driver’s seat.” I asked him to explain that, and what I understood him to say is this:

In past decades executives of organizations hired high-end consultants, like a McKinsey or Bain, to assist them in formulating their strategy. Goals and targeted results might be planned from this work, but the actual implementation is where things become somewhat gray and fuzzy. He said that achieving the strategy comes best from the heads, hearts, and


I recently met in Brussels with Jeroen de Flanders, co-founder of the performance factory, a research and advisory firm which is solely focused on helping organizations increase performance through best-in-class strategy execution. Jeroen and I first met in a Linkedin.com discussion group. I became intrigued in further dialoging with him because, if you noticed, the subtitle of my recent book, Performance Management, refers to strategy execution, not to strategy formulation. My belief is executives are reasonably good at defining their strategy. Their frustration is making it happen – implementing their strategy.

Jeroen said something during our meeting that caught my attention. He said, “Organizations need to put managers back in the driver’s seat.” I asked him to explain that, and what I understood him to say is this:

In past decades executives of organizations hired high-end consultants, like a McKinsey or Bain, to assist them in formulating their strategy. Goals and targeted results might be planned from this work, but the actual implementation is where things become somewhat gray and fuzzy. He said that achieving the strategy comes best from the heads, hearts, and hands of the managers and employee teams who must actually define the initiatives and action steps, complete them, and test along the way that they are realizing the expected benefits – otherwise adjustments are needed.

Jeroen’s thinking resonates with me. I have been fairly consistent with my opinion that despite the importance of executive sponsorship to drive improvement and organizational transformation, often there are enough distractions and fire-fighting at the top that an alternative next best lever is with managers. I described this in my article We’re Down Here.

One substantial difference between the backgrounds of Jeroen and me is that his initial job experience was with compensation and incentive consultants who formulate pay-for-performance and goal setting for individuals. In contrast my mid-career experiences (following a decade of line management with a blue-chip Fortune 100 company) were from 15 years as a management consultant with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS usually addressing organization-wide or core process issues. In short, Jeroen has come at enterprise performance management from a bottoms-up view whereas I arrived at it from a tops-down view. But these two views must be fused somewhere in the middle, or else there is a disconnect between them. And I believe addressing this disconnect will be the next big wave in managerial methodologies – translating strategy into operations.

Lots of organizations have two-inch thick strategy documents with lots of measures and plans. But this document does not deliver the strategy and its plans. Managers do. Jeroen’s position is it requires heads (understanding the strategic intent, of the executives, hearts (being inspired and motivated), and hands (taking actions).

In the past, strategy implementation was left in the hands of the same executives who formulated the strategy. Can they wear both hats? Today, there are individuals with experience who can be hired to facilitate the process of strategy execution.