If strategy is identifying how to achieve/exceed objectives, execution is all about making it happen. It’s the follow through. The next step.
The primary elements of successful companies are:
- Clear goals for everybody within the company that deliver the general strategy
- A method of measuring development towards those goals on a daily basis
- Clear responsibility, ownership and accountability for that process by everyone involved
Those are the fundamentals. Beyond that, brilliant execution requires having a systematic way of helping people grasp the current reality and then appropriately acting on it to exceed expectations.
Most companies don’t face reality very well. A key factor in leadership is to persuade people to face reality and then develop the “will” to want to do something positive about it. As Napoleon said, “a leader is one who faces reality … and deals in hope.”
You don’t need to be a business management expert to diagnose whether or not a company has a strong tradition of execution. It’s generally apparent in several ways:
- Levels of attrition (staff and customers)
- Business outcomes being exceeded (or not!)
- The practices around hiring
- The levels of innovation and continuous improvement
- Reducing costs, increasing productivity and efficiency
- Retention of top performers (or not!)
- Increasing levels of customer service (or not!)
The people in the organisation feel safe in expressing alternative viewpoints. They are not the first ones out the door in the evening. This is their company and they want to make it special. If you have ever sat through a meeting run by the company head who asks, “Are there any questions?” and the silence is deafening … you get the idea!
If meetings usually involve a protracted PowerPoint presentation, packed with slides purporting to reveal all of the amazing things the presenting group has achieved; if others within the meeting sit quietly throughout, unwilling to ask questions or find flaws in floated ideas; if each person leaves the meeting without a clear understanding of what happens next; and if the lead supervisor sits quietly throughout, then you definitely have every cause to be worried. This isn’t a culture of brilliant execution.
Alternatively, if the presentation is brief and to the point; if the presenter sincerely highlights successes and difficulties; if others feel free to question and debate the presentation; if there may be a common understanding among everybody in the room on goals and timelines, and if participants leave the room with a clear feel of what needs to be done next, and who needs to do it, you then are in all likelihood witnessing a strong culture of execution.
Interestingly, it’s not usually the actions of the manager in the meeting room that will signal the nature of the culture. If a manager sits silently through an unquestioned presentation, he or she might be failing to do the job. The same goes for a manager that raises questions or suggests goals that are a surprise to others in the room.
However, if a manager sits silently because the presenter does a fair critique as others freely weigh in and as every person leaves with a clear feel of goals, timelines and next steps, then the manager is doing the job – they’ve created a successful culture of execution which can govern itself.