The real enemy of execution is your day job! We call it the whirlwind. It’s the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and, ironically, it’s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward.
Leaders seldom differentiate between the whirlwind and strategic goals because both are necessary to the survival of the organization. However, they are clearly different, and more important, they compete relentlessly for time, resources, energy, and attention. We don’t have to tell you which will usually win this fight.
The whirlwind is urgent and it acts on you and everyone working for you every minute of every day. The goals you’ve set for moving forward are important, but when urgency and importance clash, urgency will win every time. Once you become aware of this struggle, you will see it playing out everywhere, in any team that is trying to execute anything new.
Consider your own experience. Can you remember an important initiative that launched well and then died? How did the end come? Was it with a loud crash and a tremendous explosion? Or did it go down quietly over time, suffocated by the whirlwind? We’ve asked thousands of leaders this question and we always get the same answer: “Slow suffocation!” It’s like finding that faded tee-shirt in the bottom of your drawer and saying, “Oh yeah, Operation Summit. I wonder whatever happened to that.” It died, and you didn’t even have a funeral.
Executing in spite of the whirlwind means overcoming not only its powerful distraction, but also the inertia of “the way it’s always been done.” We’re not saying that the whirlwind is bad. It isn’t. It keeps your organization alive and you can’t ignore it. If you ignore the urgent, it can kill you today. It’s also true, however, that if you ignore the important, it can kill you tomorrow. In other words, if you and your team operate solely from within the whirlwind, you won’t progress—all your energy is spent just trying to stay upright in the wind. The challenge is executing your most important goals in the midst of the urgent!