Execution: the holy grail of business?

Execution: the holy grail of business?

Execution: the holy grail of business?

A real issue for many businesses today is the lack of execution. According to recent studies, two thirds of corporate strategy is never executed. Companies spend a lot of time and resources on thinking ahead, deciding their long-term vision and strategy. They engage consulting firms and their top leaders to do so. They involve many people and resources in producing a lovely Word document and numerous PowerPoint slides to display their plan and strategy, only to see that two thirds of it will never be executed.
 
The issue is rarely the quality of the strategy and action plan decided. One of the biggest challenges for companies today is execution. They might be clear on their strategy, on where they want to head. But if you look at what people are doing on a day to-day basis, what they spend their time on hour after hour, you realise there is often a big gap between what they are doing and the company’s strategies and divisional goals, and the KPIs they are supposed to be working towards.
 
Why does such a gap exist?
Here are a few simple examples of organisational ineffectiveness. Ask 10 people in the same business three simple questions:
 
• What are the goals of your organisation?
• What are the goals of your team and how do they align with the goals of your organisation?
• What are your KPIs and how do they align with the goals of your organisation?
 
These are simple questions, but when we ask them we have found a few interesting things:
• The majority of people do not know their organisation’s goals.
• The majority of people have no idea what their team, or they, should do for their organisation to reach its goals.
 
Personal ineffectiveness
Personal ineffectiveness is different but has a huge impact as well. It all starts from a simple observation: most of us have never been taught how to work.
 
What a bold statement. However, in our view this is one of the most important reasons for lack of execution and lower-than-expected performance. Most people are committed to their role and want to do a good job. They are neither lazy nor unwilling. But they are not working efficiently – they work hard but not always smart. They have never been taught how to work.
 
Over the years people develop work habits that are not the most efficient or effective. We are not born naturally effective. We have to learn the principles and practise them until they become habits.
 
How each person can create a discipline of execution
Execution is a discipline and needs to become a habit. As Aristotle so rightly wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.
 
Leaders and their teams need to create a discipline of execution. Here are the bases of the discipline of execution we implement with our clients:
 
Think quarterly
The first characteristic of highly successful people is that they are very clear on the goals they want to achieve and what they need to do to achieve them. To do this, you need to decide not only what to focus on, but also what you will not do.
 
As the leadership expert Peter Drucker put it, “the key of strategy is omission”. That is, deciding what you will not do is as important as deciding what you want to do. Too many people take too much on and struggle to do anything well.
 
Once a quarter, block off an hour with your team and ask each person to answer a simple question: “What are the two or three things that, if you did them extremely well over the next three months, would have a significant long-term impact on the team/division/company’s performance?”
 
Stick to two or three per person, no more. Yes, it’s hard. We always want to do too much.
 
Plan weekly
Once a week, each person needs to review their three high-impact activities for the quarter and organise their coming week. These activities have to become a must, a priority.
 
Book meetings with yourself in your diary to advance your three activities. Organize your calendar so that 60–80% of your time is spent on them.
 
This is easy to understand but harder to do. Very often the people we coach argue that they have a lot of urgent issues to attend to before having the time for these high-impact activities. Guess what? Last-minute crises will always happen. If you wait for a perfect time, you might wait a long time.
 
Act daily – focus
Be disciplined on a daily basis. If you have booked a meeting with yourself to spend two hours on one of your core high-impact activities, be 100% focused on this topic – no distractions, no interruptions; no starting late, having a break or checking a few emails midstream.
 
Ask yourself a simple question: why would you have less respect or be less prepared for a meeting with yourself than with a very important client? When you have a meeting with yourself to progress one of your high-impact activities, start on time, focus 100%, and don’t allow interruptions and distractions.
 
A few last words
All of the above is simple but it is rarely applied, and, as a result, many companies struggle to achieve what was agreed in their strategic plan. Bain Consulting did an interesting study on strategy execution. They surveyed nearly 2,000 large companies and found that seven out of eight failed to achieve profitable growth, even though more than 90% had detailed strategic plans.
 
This is because the strategic plan is only the tip of the iceberg. Execution is what lies beneath and what will enable businesses to perform.


This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Cyril Peupion,author of Work Smarter: Live Better. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.