Apr 24, 2012
In the new world we move fast. We seek to rapidly meet objectives and achieve success with every idea almost as soon as we come up with them.
If strategy is the engine that drives business success then execution is the oil that keeps the engine lubricated. And without oil, even the most perfectly tuned Ferrari becomes merely a beautiful facade of a once mighty rocket on four wheels.
While perhaps merely a well placed metaphor for the enterprise, a business cannot operate on strategy alone. Execution is the key and it is the most often ignored piece to what is really a simple formula for business success.
I propose the simple math…(Assuming the company has proper resources for strategy implementation)
Strategy + Execution = Results
Simple enough right? However there are a handful of variables that can yield various results such as…
Good Strategy + Poor Execution = Lower Than Expected Results
Great Strategy + Poor Execution = Lower Than Expected Results
Even as far as to say…
Perfect Strategy (if there was such a thing) + Poor Execution = Lower Than Expected Results
Is it out of sorts to say that the perfect strategy without the proper expectation will not yield the expected result? I would feel entirely confident in the statement. In fact if you asked just about any CEO or other executive I would suggest they would agree without a second thought.
So let’s look at the other side? Can a poor strategy with great execution yield better than expected results.
Well first I would be remiss to say that anyone knowingly goes to market with a bad strategy. However, all strategies are not created equal and sometimes limited resources or a contracting market can lend hinderence to a situation leaving management with few options and a difficult road to achieving the required results.
This is where execution becomes the critical next step in a company life cycle. In fact I am confident in saying that a mediocre strategy can be executed so well that it drives extraordinary results. However, in order to achieve great results we must execute, and to execute we MUST do the following 5 things well!
- Communication: I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have spoken to an employee who could not even begin to articulate the strategic vision of their company. While not every employee may have direct input into the strategy itself, it is the sum of the employees contribution in conjunction with the strategy that ultimately yields an outcome. So many ideas, visions, and strategies are built in the boardroom and never make it to the work force. Vision is never painted via osmosis and execution is never accomplished in a vacuum.
- “Buy In”: I put quotations around this one and here is why. The leadership professor may say you need complete buy in and to that I say UNLIKELY! However, to maximize strategic outcomes you need your most influential team members to contribute at a high level. While it is ideal to have everyone believe, if you have more than a handful of employees, getting collective buy-in up front is quite unrealistic. That is why there must be a targeted group within any organization, we will call them the “Influential.” This group is comprised of the most critical personnel in the execution process need to be identified during the strategy design phase and it is ideal to get their input to secure their buy in once the strategy is rolled out. Successful execution is dependent upon it.
- Benchmarks: While the plan may have some expected end result, rarely is a strategy being implemented in a window so short that benchmarks don’t need to be set. Many strategies are filled with revenue and profit benchmarks which serve as a good start. However, I recommend that their be tangible targets that augment revenue and profit in order to see that the plan is on track. This can include production levels, customer satisfaction levels, brand awareness, or other non-revenue/profit metrics. Profit and revenue are the ultimate goals but sometimes you have to build the roads before you can drive on them.
- Flexibility: Some of the best plans crumble under the pressure of execution. If the strategists are the “Coaches” then the executors are the players on the field. When the quarterback snaps the ball and the defense is already in the backfield it takes a rapid adjustment to save the play from being a disaster. To execute you need to be able to change course to keep the plan on track and sometimes you need to tuck the ball and prevent a turnover. Nonetheless, if you force the strategy without being flexible you may end up taking multiple steps back and sabotaging whatever progress has been made.
- Discipline: I call discipline a lost art. We have become “Shiny Object Chasers,” and we find ourselves changing course with every change in the jet stream. The companies that I have seen execute more successfully than all the rest are the ones that see the end and stay the course. They tend to be acutely aware of their objectives and they are almost painstakingly focused on accomplishing them. If and when the sails do change course, they can be flexible, but stay entirely disciplined on their objectives. Companies like Cisco, Apple, Berkshire, and others all have uncanny discipline to stay and execute along the strategic course.