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5 Reasons Why I Love Execution

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

I think I may be in love.

I’m reading Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s book “Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done”. Although I’m only one third of the way through it, I believe it’s the most rational, practical book about strategy that I’ve read in years.

Why do I think that? Well, for a start I buy into their fundamental premises. Here are 5 that I think are particularly important:

1. The difference between a company and its competitors is often the ability to execute.

All business owners have access to the same business books, webinars, training programs, coaches and consultants etc. Why then do 2 companies in the same industry, operating in the same markets and with similar strategies, produce different results?

The only remaining variable is execution. Which doesn’t mean the market leader is executing well – they’re just executing better than the other players. As an old friend used to say – “In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king”.

Some of you may argue that we haven’t considered culture or leadership. In that case, read on.

2. Execution is the biggest issue facing business today – and nobody has explained it satisfactorily.

Bossidy and Charan make several great points. Over the years, a great deal of thought has been given to strategy development – the result of which has been thousands of books and articles. You can hire a strategy consulting firm (including mine) who will guide you through the various “models”. The same is true – or rapidly becoming true – of leadership development and culture.

But how much thought has been given to how to execute? Not much. (Although, I have to say, our firm has always emphasised it). Perhaps execution has been neglected because it’s traditionally been confused with tactics. But it’s not – execution is integral to strategy.

You could argue that the field of project management is concerned with execution. But is it? Or is it concerned with how to manage the projects that someone else decided have to be executed?

3. Execution is the major job of the business leader. The leader who executes puts in place a culture and processes for executing.

If execution is the biggest issue in business today it had better be the #1 job of every business owner. But there are a couple of bear traps here.

Entrepreneurs have to avoid the temptation to execute or do everything by themselves. They also have to avoid micro-managing or being too hands-on. If the owners don’t do that they lose sight of the forest and only see trees. They stop being strategic and get lost in tactics.

The authors say the most effective approach is “active involvement”. That means getting things done through people. But having such a detailed knowledge of how the business makes money that an owner can constantly probe and ask the right questions – leading people to develop the right solutions.

The owner/leader has to find the correct balance if she is to lead by example and make execution part of the culture.

4. Execution is a discipline, a specific set of behaviours and techniques that, if mastered, will give you a competitive advantage.

The “easy” parts of the statement are that there are specific techniques, they can be mastered and, if you pull that off, you will gain competitive advantage.

The more difficult part is that there are a specific set of behaviours to be mastered also. Human nature being what it is, changing behaviour – even our own – usually takes far more effort than learning a technique. But perhaps that’s where the discipline is required.

5. Execution includes mechanisms for changing assumptions as the environment changes.

This is my personal favourite. Many of the owners and management teams we work with get the intellectual concept of “no fault, no blame” when following up on plans and finding they haven’t worked quite as intended.

But even they find it hard to put guilt and value judgements aside when targets are missed because assumptions were “wrong”. The authors’ stress need for “realism” in running a business. Realistically then, has anyone ever been able to accurately predict the future? Let’s put the fault, guilt, and blame away for good.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m excited. There is just so much common sense in this book I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it. I should have read it years ago………but there goes the guilt thing again!

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