Businesses face many external factors in today’s changing and uncertain economy. These factors include decreased margins, the rapid boom of e-commerce, low consumer confidence and much more. To work against these factors, businesses must master the habit of execution.
Many ambitious business owners spend a great deal creating solid plans, but are unable to execute properly. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” He not only emphasized the importance of planning, but also the discipline of executing plans.
Why is this a topic of concern? Well, it is a concern for two main reasons. First, traditional management education puts great emphasis on management techniques and strategic thinking, but execution is not emphasized as much. Secondly, Execution and persistence are arguably the most crucial ingredients for any start-up’s success.
Former CEO of Compaq, Eckhard Pfeiffer, envisioned an ambitious strategy. He saw that the so-called “Wintel Architecture” – the combination of the Windows operating system and Intel’s constant innovation – would serve as the core for everything from handheld computers to corporate servers. He began acquisitions to begin serving all computing needs of enterprise customers and was poised to dominate the industry by 1998.
In the end, though, the strategy failed to achieve stellar results. Integrating the acquisitions and delivery on promises required better execution than Compaq was able to achieve. In addition, neither Pfeiffer nor his successor pursued the kind of execution necessary to make money as PCs became an increasingly commodity business.
Michael Dell, on the other hand, understood that kind of execution. His direct-sales and build-to-order approach formed the core of his business strategy, and stands as the chief reason Dell passed Compaq, both in market value and as the biggest maker of PCs at that time.
The hardest part of execution is changing human behaviour – first your team members, then business partners, and most importantly, the clients. To ensure you follow through with execution, essential building blocks must be in place in your organization. As a leader, you need to ensure you know your people and your business, insist on realism, set clear goals and priorities, follow through, reward the doers, expand people’s capabilities and most importantly, know yourself. By knowing yourself, you will be self-aware, realistic and have authenticity in your strategy.
Three key disciplines that any business leaders should follow for successful execution are;
1) Focus on one or two goals – Have you and your team narrow your focus to important goals, and don’t let other distractions make you rethink your priorities. If it needs to be done, just do it.
2) Set clear goals – Set specific goals to relate to, as a measure of performance. Your team will be uncertain and discouraged when the measure of performance is vague.
3) Make people accountable for results – Most people want to be led, and have a clear goal to work towards. Thus, assign not only the tasks, but the results as well for which an employee is responsible.
Overall, every entrepreneur needs to realize that building and managing a start-up is different from growing an existing company. Art of execution brings personal change from thinking to doing to managing. But don’t forget that the fun and challenge is in the learning, so enjoy the start-up journey.
If you like what you read or would like to read more about it, I recommend “Execution – the discipline of getting things” done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.