Here’s a quick gut check: On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you in your organization’s ability to turn your brilliant, world-changing strategy into results?
I asked this question of a client’s leadership team not long ago. The first few team members offered up middle-of-the-road ratings around six. Then one team member changed the whole conversation.
“I’m a two,” he said quietly. “I’d love to be a seven. But I’m a two.”
This leader was voicing what a lot of us know when we’re at the tail end of a strategy process. We have spent countless hours elevating our thinking. We have envisioned a bright future for the company. We have clarified the choices the organization must make to move toward that future. We have even crystalized priorities into a handful of critical success factors.
But this is where the rubber meets the road. Your strategy is going to have to survive in the wild, away from the safety of the board room. It needs a bridge from theory to reality.
This is where the hard work begins. It’s where one of the leadership team’s most important but least discussed roles comes in: creating momentum. In the end, ideas are cheap. Visions and goals are crucial, but insufficient. Without momentum, all of these concepts are just words and pictures stuck on whiteboards or in snazzy PowerPoint decks. The ideas you had to change the world can easily die on the vine.
Momentum is the energy that drives your strategy forward into action. It creates an air of expectancy. Over time, that expectancy can become almost an aura of inevitability. But unlike a sense of doom – where something will inevitably go wrong – momentum creates a sense that something will inevitably go right.
Whether or not we’ve experienced momentum, we’ve all seen it. Up until this past weekend, my favorite soccer team, Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League, had been in the middle of a run that exemplifies momentum. For decades, they underachieved. Over the past 13 months, they hadn’t lost a league game. In fact, they had only failed to win one league game in the prior 8 months. And they tied that game. (Yes, you’re allowed to tie a game in soccer. Get over it.) This sustained success is unprecedented in any of the biggest soccer leagues in the world.
What seemed impossible a couple of years ago – to win and win and win every week – seemed inevitable over the past year. In some ways, that momentum gave them the equivalent of an extra goal every game because their opponents felt Liverpool’s momentum too.
We know rationally that success is not inevitable even when you have momentum going for you. The next win is not in the bank. But when you can recruit and engage talented people who believe that good things are going to happen, it’s amazing how much you can achieve.
We have funny ideas about momentum. We all know we need it but we sometimes feel like it’s a mysterious commodity. We can even start to feel like it’s completely beyond our influence, like trying to create wind.
But while it may be impossible to force momentum, we can create the conditions for it to start and for our organizations to harness – and even magnify – momentum’s effects.
Let’s go back to my beloved Liverpool. Their rise has been guided over the past five years by Jurgen Klopp, the coach hired by the club to revive their faltering fortunes. Klopp has a very distinctive style of play that he instills in his teams, what he calls “heavy metal football.” When it works, it overwhelms opponents. Impressively.
But Klopp knows that creating a winning club is about more than what happens on game day or in one season. Early on in his tenure, he often talked about his work with Liverpool as a multi-year project. He systematically rebuilt how the team worked from recruiting to training to game preparation to its relationship with the fans.
This is the point: he had a system. He wasn’t trying to win games. He was implementing his system for running a club, a system he had developed over years. As he won more people inside and outside the club over to this system, momentum started to build. Now, it seems unstoppable.
People like to be in places where good things are happening. Better yet, people start to recruit others to the mission when they’re experiencing momentum. Momentum is the harnessing of an intangible human energy. It’s the ultimate talent magnet.
You too can do this. I love a good strategy. But your strategy needs momentum if it’s going to create results and bring impact to the world. And you can create the conditions for momentum. You can install a system that – over time – makes success more likely than failure. That’s what leaders like you do.