In their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan state that “Execution is the great unaddressed issue in the business world today. Its absence is the single biggest obstacle to success and the cause of most of the disappointments that are mistakenly attributed to other causes.”
Later in the book they stress three points about execution.
- Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy.
- Execution is the major job of the business leader.
- Execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture.
You can have a great vision for the company and develop strategies that will help you achieve that vision, but without execution nothing will be accomplished. You have to have people on your staff who can make things happen, and they have to be held accountable to see that things do happen.
It’s far too easy to offer excuses as to why a company didn’t hit its sales figures or accomplish some other aspect of its vision. “The market is down.” “We’re in a tough business climate right now.” “It’s going to take time.” All of these may be true, but things are always tough in business. Part of strategic planning is trying to recognize some of the potential challenges to achieving your mission and knowing ahead of time how you’ll address them. Will you identify all the roadblocks to your success ahead of time? No, but that’s just another excuse.
Despite the challenges and obstacles, you have to execute anyway. Find a way over, around, under, or through those obstacles so you can stay on target to achieve your vision.
Some of the best leaders I know have a policy that requires anyone with a problem to have several possible solutions to the problem before bring it to the leader. He or she listens to the situation and asks, “What are some possible ways we can address this problem?” If they don’t have any, they are sent away with orders to come back with some potential solutions. This is how you build an execution culture in your organization. Eventually, when people realize they are capable of identifying solutions they won’t need to take as many problems to the leader.
People must be held accountable for results. Making an effort is good, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fame owned a very successful real estate company in New York. Every six months she fired the bottom 25 percent salespeople. Perhaps that sounds cruel, but it’s not as cruel as allowing people to remain employed in a job they are not good at doing. If they’re not selling they are not earning money which means they and their families are going to struggle financially. Being fired gave them the opportunity to move into another line of work in which they might excel, and it gave Corcoran the opportunity to hire new people who could make it selling real estate. It also allowed her to take a $1,000 loan to start her real estate company and turn it into $66 million when she later sold the business.
Execution requires that you measure the things that are most important. The old adage is true: What gets measured gets done. People need to know what they are expected to produce on their job, and they need to know that their results are going to be measured. That way they can never complain they didn’t really understand what we expected.
Finally, don’t forget item number two above. Execution is the major job of the leader. If he or she fails to execute in their areas of responsibility it will send a signal to rest of the team that’s it’s OK if they don’t execute. If the leader doesn’t hold others accountable for their execution, then he or she isn’t executing either.
Execution isn’t about cracking a whip. It’s about setting realistic targets, making sure everyone understands the targets for their area of responsibility, measuring for results, and addressing those times when people fail to reach their targets.