Are you giving execution the respect it deserves?

Melissa Raffoni, lecturer at the MIT Sloan School says. “Execution gets little intellectual respect. In contrast strategic planning has all the cachet and gets all the ink. Why? Because it rewards creativity, the most valued of intellectual endeavours. But experienced unit heads know that all the most creative, visionary strategic planning is useless if it isn’t translated into action.”

Our plans are usually based on what we would like to see, who we would like to become as a company and what we want to be most known for. We often involve a consulting firm to help us design our new strategy. We know from past experience that we need to stretch our people so we set goals that provide that stretch. Once we’re done planning we pass the numbers down to “operations”. We keep on top of quarterly numbers and if they come up short we immediately contact the people in charge telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to shape up or else!

This is how we execute and boy, what tremendous pressure this brings to bear on us emotionally, mentally and physically. Whenever there is a gap between promises made and results delivered most leaders tell me that they are having a problem with accountability. Why are people not doing what they’re supposed to do to implement the plan? The plan is clear. Why can’t they just do it!

If this is not execution then what is? Ram Charan, former professor in the Harvard Business School and the Kellogg School of Northwestern University describes it this way:

“Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through and ensuring accountability. In its most fundamental sense, execution is a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it: Most companies don’t face reality very well…”

Quel est le probl?me? The problem is that we don’t face reality very well.

Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus International says “In our experience, the main reason strategic planning fails is that it’s done in a kind of intellectual vacuum, without reference to current organisational reality. It’s way too easy to sit in a room for a couple of days (or in some cases – sadly – a couple of weeks or months) and come up with a plan that sounds good but that isn’t feasible. Most strategic plans simply don’t take into account people’s actual skills, time, understanding, capability, values and motivation.”

You have to first involve all the people responsible for the strategic plan’s outcome – including key production people – in shaping the plan. They would set goals based on the organisation’s capability for delivering results.

Next you need to ask your people how specifically are they going to achieve their projected demand on a timely basis. Many times we operate like these mice in this Aesop fable:

“Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this and some said that, but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape. I propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the Cat’s neck. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily flee.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: “It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

How many meetings have you attended where everyone left the room without any firm conclusions about who would do what by when? Everybody agreed that the idea was good but once no one had been named accountable for results it never got done. Other things ALWAYS got in the way that seemed more important. If a plan is to be implemented milestones must be set with strict accountability for the people in charge clearly stating: who is responsible for doing what by when.

At the conclusion of Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

If you have set wildly important goals that would provide stretch for you and your people and you know in your heart that it’s possible to achieve them, then by all means put in the foundation of proper execution under those goals. With a proper system for execution – you simply will not fail!

Giselle Hudson is a speaker, author, Business Performance Improvement Consultant and Coach, helping business owners and independent service professionals find their own profitable rhythm of execution. If you believe you are underachieving in your business, that you’re much smarter than your results are showing and that your current performance isn’t living up to your potential then email me at for your FREE copy of “How to Get into the Rhythm of Consistent and Profitable Results.”


"Are you giving execution the respect it deserves?"

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