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November 25, 1996

Execution

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Not even the best strategic plan self-executes.

Parenting is much more than just deciding with your spouse that you want to have a child and going through the fun part of producing the tyke. When you leave the hospital with your bundle, you realize you’re going to have to guide and raise a real-live human being for years to come.
Likewise, strategy is much more than just planning what your organization will do next. You also have to make it happen over a period of time—effectively and cost efficiently, so that you achieve your purpose.
What we’re talking about here is execution: getting things done. Execution is not some separate, lesser phase, subsumed under tactics rather than strategy. Execution is a part of strategy.
Lawrence G. Hrebiniak, author of Making Strategy Work, said,

When companies separate the planning and doing—that’s wrong. Executive strategy requires ownership at all levels, from corporate level managers on down. Strategic success really demands a simultaneous view of planning and doing. The greater the overlap of doers and planners, the greater probability of success.5

I would suggest that good execution is actually more important in the Strategy 3.0 world than in the world that is passing. You see, the flip side of the fact that fast innovation has become so widespread is that ideas are a dime a dozen. Good execution can set you apart from a competitor who’s spinning out game-changing concepts but doesn’t know how to turn them into winning products or services.
In the latest edition of their classic book on execution, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan point out that, as competition becomes fiercer, the ability to execute can become the factor that determines who survives. They argue that leaders need to link the three central factors of people, strategy, and operations to build a company based on dialogue, intellectual honesty, and realism.6
Business performance consultant Ed Barrows reported on how Prescolite and Progress Lighting—two brands of Connecticut-based Hubbell Incorporated—merged strategy and execution. They created a process that incorporates both strategy formulation activities, such as ongoing analysis of changes in market conditions, with execution activities such as management of integrated strategic programs. At the start of the planning year, they perform a “deep dive” on critical competitive issues facing the businesses. The remainder of the year they focus on measuring and monitoring the progress they are making. They also keep a running list of “must-do” integrated programs that they readjust as business conditions change.7
Consider these keys to successful execution that I have observed along the way:
• Understand your internal resources (people, money, capacity, and so on).
• Establish, clear reachable goals.
• Communicate and over-communicate with everyone involved.
• Establish role clarity and set up swim lanes for people and activities.
• Make sure the folks doing the execution buy in to what must be done.
• Empower people to do their jobs.
• Provide top-down support and be ready to clear roadblocks and hurdles.
• Measure results.
The authors of a Harvard Business Review article on execution said, “A brilliant strategy, blockbuster product, or breakthrough technology can put you on the competitive map, but only solid execution can keep you there. You have to be able to deliver on your intent.”8
Execution is at a premium in today’s world. You can’t just give birth to a great idea. You also have to nurture it to maturity.

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