Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

In their book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck drive home the point that execution is vital.

The difference between a company and its competitors is its ability to execute; that is the critical difference for success.

In their view, execution is not tactics; it is a discipline and a system that has to be built into the company’s strategy, its goals and its culture. Strategies most often fail because they are not executed well; things that are supposed to happen do not happen. The crucial gap in business is the gap between what a company’s leaders want to achieve and the ability of the organization to achieve it.

Three Crucial Points

  • Execution is a discipline and integral to strategy
    • It is a systematic process of rigorously discussing the how’s and what’s, questioning, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability
      • Why – “Why are things not getting done.”
      • How – “How are things going to get done.”
    • Its heart is in the three core process: people, strategy, and operations
  • Execution is the major job of the business leader
    • The leader is in charge of getting things done by picking other leaders, setting the strategic direction, and conducting operations
    • The leader sets the dialogue in the company: candid and reality –based
      • Raising the right questions
      • Debating them
      • Finding realistic solutions
    • A leader needs to search for problems to solve and then make sure that they get solved
    • A leader needs to be passionate about getting results
  • Execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture
    • Present in the reward system
    • Leaders look for gaps between the desired and actual outcome in everything and then move to close the gap and raise the bar still higher
    • The challenge in execution is to get to the heart of an issue through persistent and constructive probing

    In short, execution requires a three step approach

  • Involve everyone in the development of the plan
  • Ask about the how’s of execution
  • Set milestones for progress of the plan with strict accountability for the people in charge.

Building Blocks for Execution

  • One: The Leader’s Seven Essential Behaviors
    • Know your people and your business
      • Conduct probing and in-depth business reviews and plant tours
    • Insist on realism
    • Set clear goals and priorities
      • Focus on 3 – 4 priorities
    • Follow through
    • Reward the doers
      • Leaders need the confidence to explain to a direct report why he got a lower than expected reward
    • Expand people’s capabilities
      • Coach by observing people in action and then providing specific useful feedback
      • The skill of the coach is the art of incisive questioning
    • Know yourself
      • Know strengths and weaknesses
      • Have emotional fortitude to allow you to put the right people in the right jobs and to deal with under performers
      • Be authentic: your outer person should be the same as your inner person
      • Self-aware
      • Humble
  • Two: Creating the Framework for Cultural Change
    • Cultural change gets real when your aim is execution
    • Operationalizing Culture: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of acting; we act ourselves into a new way of thinking.
    • Link rewards to performance
      • Measure people against how well they perform against their competitors in the business environment
    • Robust dialogue
      • Truth over harmony
      • Robust dialogue ends with closure; people agree what each person has to do and when
    • Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate
      • You change the culture by changing the behavior of its leaders
      • Measure the change in culture by measuring the change in the personal behavior of its leaders and the performance of the business
  • Three: The Job No Leader Should Delegate: Having the Right People in the Right Place
    • The quality of a company’s people is the best competitive differentiator
    • Why the right people are not in the right jobs
      • Lack of knowledge
      • Lack of courage
      • Psychological comfort factor
      • Lack of personal commitment
    • What kind of people are you looking for?
      • Key question: How good is this person at getting things done?
      • Can this person energize others?
      • Can this person be decisive on tough issues?
      • Can this person get things done through others?
      • Can this person follow through?
    • How to get the right person in the right jobs
      • Focus on ethics, energy, implementation and accomplishments
        • How does he set priorities?
        • What qualities is he known for?
        • Does he include people in decision making?
        • What are his work ethic and his energy level?
      • How leaders meet their commitments is at least as important as whether they meet them

The Three Core Processes of Execution

  • The People Process: Making the Link with Strategy and Operations
    • Focus on whether the person can do the job of tomorrow or take the business to the next level
    • Link people to strategy and operations (e.g. what will be expected of them in the near, medium and long-term future)
    • Develop the leadership pipeline through continuous improvement, succession depth and reducing retention risk
      • Look at a leadership assessment summary (performance and behavior) with characterizations of high potential, promotable, experienced professional, too new, needs heavy coaching or new job, needs job change.
      • Look at a continuous improvement summary focused on skills (business acumen, customer focus, strategic insights, vision and purpose, values and ethics, action, commitment, teamwork, innovation, staffing, developing people, performance)
    • It must be realized that everyone has unforeseen events that come along, and the people who ultimately succeed are those who overcome them.
    • Deal with Non-performers
      • A non-performer is not performing at the level that is essential for the company’s success
      • They must be dealt with quickly and fairly
    • Link human resources to business results
    • Candid Dialogue: The “Live Ammo” in the people process
  • The Strategy Process: Making the Link with People and Operations
    • Identify and define the critical issues behind the strategy:
      • How are you positioned in the context of its business environment and the market opportunities and threats?
      • What are your competitive advantages and disadvantages?
    • Question: How good are the assumptions upon which the plan hinges? What are the pluses and minuses of the alternatives?
    • Link to People: Do you have the right people in place to execute the strategy? If not, how are you going to get them?
    • Link to Operations and the operating plan so that the moving multiple parts of the organization are aligned to get you where you want to go
    • The Importance of the How’s – Focus on how the strategy will be done
      • Tie in with internal and external realities
      • Test critical assumptions
      • Have an alternative plan if assumptions are wrong
    • Building blocks of a strategy are the 5 or so key concepts and actions that define it
    • Building the strategic plan
      • Who: it should be built and owned by those who will execute it
      • Questions in the plan
        • What is the assessment of the external environment
        • How well do you understand the existing customers and markets
          • Who makes the buying decision?
        • What is the best way to grow the business profitably and what are the obstacles to growth
          • Does the business need to develop new products?
          • Does it need to take existing ones into new channels and to new customers?
          • Does it need to acquire other businesses?
          • How are its costs compared with its competitors?
          • What productivity programs are in place to improve costs?
        • Who is the competition?
          • What will be the competition’s response to our moves?
        • Can the business execute the strategy?
        • Are the short term and long term balanced?
        • What are the important milestones for executing the plan?
        • What are the critical issues facing the business?
        • How will the business make money on a sustainable basis?
    • Questions to raise at a strategic review
      • How well versed is each business unit team about the competition?
      • How strong is the organizational capability to execute the strategy?
      • Is the plan scattered or sharply focused?
      • Are we choosing the right ideas?
      • Are the linkages with operations and people clear?
    • Follow through after the strategic plan is critical
  • The Operations Process: Making the Link with Strategy and People
    • The operating plan provides the path for achieving the strategic plan to the people who need to achieve it
    • Synchronizing the operating plan requires that the organization overall has common assumptions about the external environment and a common understanding
    • To set realistic goals ensure that the assumptions are sound
      • Who is the customer?
      • How does he buy and why?
      • What is the need?
      • How long will the need last?
      • What is the competition doing?
      • Is our value proposition good enough?
      • Who is the customer’s customer?
    • Using the operations plan create realistic goals and targets within the unit
    • After the operations plan is developed, follow up and look at contingency plans, create quarterly review to keep the plan up to date and reinforce synchronization
    • Use stretch goals very carefully as a way to force people to think about doing things in a radically different way or to help people execute exceptionally well.

About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Perform / Execution and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

  1. David,

    Another great job – this is an important subject and you helped tell the story clearly.



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