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Execution Is The Hard Part!

by David Brock on April 9th, 2010

The phone rings, it’s a concerned executive.  After pleasantries, we get down to the issues.  Usually it goes something like this:

  • “Dave, I’m worried about our business strategies.  I’m not sure our strategy is right, we need to look at developing a new strategy and approach to growing our business,”  or it might be,
  • “Dave, we just aren’t getting the results from our sales process that we expect, we need to look at developing a new sales process,” or
  • “Dave, our channel programs,” (or substitute whatever program you want), “just aren’t working.  Can you help us develop something new?”

We talk a little more, agree on what I can do and I get started.  Typically, I say, let me look at the strategies (processes, programs, etc) that you have right now.  I’d like to get a baseline and understand what’s currently in place.  Quickly, I’m sent all sorts of documents, deck after deck of PowerPoint presentation, a few Excel spreadsheets.  I review them, 80% of the time what I look at is really pretty good.  The fundamentals are in place, there has been some good research and thought.  While, it’s kind of my job to find fault in everything, at first glance things don’t seem so bad and I wonder, what’s really the problem, what’s going on here?  Often I’m torn, I’m supposed to recommend something new, but to me there seems to be no reason to change, I wonder why isn’t a great strategy, process or program not working.

My next step is to start to talk to people–people in the organization, customers, suppliers.  I wander around to get an idea of what’s happening.  This is where the “problem” becomes visible.  While the strategies, processes, programs or whatever have been pretty well thought out, they aren’t being executed.  People are doing something else–executing a different strategy, using their own process-anything but executing what they should be executing.

There can be many reasons they aren’t executing:  They don’t know or undestand the new strategyc (proces, program).  They don’t know how to execute it.  Management is not holding them accountable for executing it.  They have no metrics, so they don’t know where they are in the execution. 

Or, execution is really hard work and makes them accountable for a result!

Whether it’s a strategy, process, program, executing it is tough work.  It’s detailed and tedious.  Often you run into brick walls and encounter problems.  You have to change and adapt, sometimes you have to completely rethink things.  It takes lots of time.  Sometimes we fail and we have to go through the painful analysis of why we failed.  That failure is embarrassing, we don’t want our peers or management to see that we have failed. 

It’s so much fun to develop a strategy, it’s creative, we are talking about something new, we are talking…… (not doing).  It’s so much easier to abandon something and talk about something new—after all making a strategy or process or program is fun and new, plus we aren’t held accountable for producing a result–other than a new strategy du jour.

Execution counts, it’s where the rubber meets the road.  Without sharp, focused execution, we cannot truly assess whether we have the right strategies in place, we don’t know what’s really working or not working.  We can’t make informed decisions–confirming that we are on the right track, or suggesting that we need to change.

Strategies, process, programs don’t produce results, executing them is what produces results.  If you have invested the time in developing a strategy. make sure you invest the time in execution–it’s hard work, but it’s what counts.

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One Comment
  1. Dave,

    You’re right on with lack of execution as a more significant issue than lack of good strategy. I’d go a step further and assert that the root cause of poor execution is management enabling of “ways out.” This crisis happened or that unusual situation occurred or… , and therefore it was OK to deviate from the strategy and process.

    You’ve either got a strategy or you don’t. If you have one, you either hit the metrics associated with successful execution or you don’t. It’s OK to miss a target. THAT’S how the employee/manager team knows when some coaching is required. It’s NOT a signal of a failed employee unless the target gets missed over and over with no improvement.


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