Is There a Secret Sauce to Flawless Execution?

Execution is defined in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as 1: the act or process of executing performance 2 : a putting to death especially as a legal penalty 3 : the process of enforcing a legal judgment (as against a debtor); also: a judicial writ directing such enforcement 4 : the act or mode or result of performance.

As the Merrian-Webster’s definition illustrates, execution is the act, process, or result of performance. In today’s business world, execution is all about performing
positive financial results on a quarter to quarter basis which in turn happens year over year. But execution doesn’t stop with just the financial numbers, there are all
the other components that drive and support the financial numbers.

To me Flawless Execution is truly what separates a company from being Average to Exceptional or as Jim Collins would say “Good to Great”. Former Gateway CEO Ted Waitt mentioned on numerous occasions that: “Gateway is great at executing at 70%”.

Well, 70% execution isn’t going to make you an industry leader. And I think we’ve all seen what happened to Gateway in relation to its competitors like Dell or IBM with only 70% execution.

Flawless execution is not something where you just turn a switch on. It is a discipline that is a part of an organizations culture and mentality of how they do business. Some companies are farther ahead then others but that is what separates a profitable company from one that is on the brink of filing for bankruptcy. To execute flawlessly is in many ways a company’s ability to react
and adapt to the ever changing business landscape in a very effective manner. That doesn’t mean you scrap your business strategy but instead making refinements that keep you one step ahead of your competitors. In reality, you need to be quick, nimble, as well as disciplined or risk being left in the dust.

The book “Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Larry Bossidy (former CEO of Allied Signal/Honeywell) and Ram Charan provides some
good insight into “how to get things done and deliver results”. Mr Bossidy and Mr Charan describe execution as being the “discipline of understanding how to link
together People, Strategy and Operations”. But they are also quick to point out that execution doesn’t revolve around a vision that is just delegated to the masses.

“Execution” as described by Mr Bossidy and Mr Charan entails three core processes which they label The People Process, The Strategy Process, and The Operations Process.

The People Process focuses on evaluating your talent
truthfully and extremely exhaustively while grooming and identifying quality leadership at all levels of the management pyramid to assure a robust talent pool is in place for succession planning.

The Strategy Process is focused on the talented minds (people) crafting a plan based on their knowledge of what is happening with competitors, industry, internal resources (money, people, technology, etc.), as well as the companies strengths and weaknesses.

The Operations Process is focused on outlining the path for the people by taking long term objectives and breaking them down into short term targets.

My takeaway from the book “Execution” is you first need to hire the right folks. Having the right people on board assures you have the knowledge, expertise, and
capacity to craft the strategy for the business. With the people and strategy in place the last step is to operationalize the strategy throughout the core and enabling process of your company because this is “where the rubber meets the road”. To summarize, the successful deployment of a new product/service depends squarely on a talent pool developing a strategy that is fully embraced and delivered within the development, marketing, ordering, manufacturing, delivering, and serving of that product and/or service as it relates to short term company targets. To nobody’s surprise this requires a commitment from the CEO to the employee building the product on the shop floor.
One aspect of “Execution” that Mr Bossidy describes as non-negotiable is the involvement of the CEO with the hiring, development, & crafting of experience
for new leaders. While at Allied Signal, Mr Bossidy spent roughly 30-40% of his day the first 2 years and about 20% of his time there after focused solely on this activity. The investment paid off handsomely given that Allied Signal saw 4 executives take CEO positions at other companies.

Earlier, I mentioned the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins (Also wrote “Built to Last”). Mr. Collins and his research staff spent 5 plus years analyzing 28 companies to try drawing correlations on what made a good company versus a truly great company. Mr. Collins outlines a great company as having 3 core disciplines. Those disciplines include Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought, and Disciplined Action.

Disciplined People involves leadership being a professional
will and personal humility which results in getting the right people on the bus to set you on the right path.

Disciplined Thought involves listening to the truth
(facts or data) and focusing on something big that you know very well.

Disciplined Action involves having a culture that stays focused on something big you do very well and leveraging technologies that allow you to be a pioneer within your chosen field.

The main message I got from “Good to Great” is you first must hire and deploy the human assets that share the same future state of the company. A strong talent pool will then listen to the brutal facts (data) about the customers, industry, company’s core competencies, & trends to build a defined business model (don’t allow scope creep to invade your model) you are extremely knowledgeable about. The last step being building a culture and utilizing technology that enhance your overall position within your industry.

Ironically, there are some common themes between “Good to Great” and “Execution”. They both put a premium on the human element, using fact based information to build your plan, and laser focus on the targets. Pretty simply in theory but the proof is in the pudding when you look at the results. The results being your profitability, growth, market share and most importantly meeting the expectations of the analysts from Wall Street. Those Wall Street analysis can be brutal but execution is truly as simple as focusing on those 3 components.

Even more interesting is both authors arrived at similar results through 2 different modes. Jim Collins and staff took at very methodically approach by using company data and interviews from 28 companies to draw correlations while “Execution” authors utilized real life input given Mr. Bossidy’s background and experience at General Electric, Allied Signal, and Honeywell to Mr Charan’s insights when consulting with CEO’s and senior executives at numerous start-ups and Fortune 500 companies.

As I look at my philosophy based on real life experiences and that of several highly decorated business authors, it is quite clear that flawless execution does touch the three principles of the Who (Human Asset), the What (Data Focused Decisions/Strategy), and the How (Meeting Targets). In a Business Transformation / Continuous Improvement frame of mind, the Who is the aspect of “Breaking Down the Functional Walls” while the What is the “Developing a Cascading Strategy”, and the How is the “Holding Everyone Accountable”.

To summarize, regardless if you are deploying a business transformation program or running a multiple billion dollar global conglomerate you need to keep in mind the aspect of fully leveraging and integrating the Who, What, & How.

Brad Nelson
About the author: 

Brad Nelson is a Vice President for Business Operations for JP Morgan Chase, and has previously been an executive with CITI, ADP and Blockbuster.  Follow Brad on Twitter.