Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Execution: the discipline of getting things done
by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan

This book powers up my belief that there is a bigger reason for getting up in the morning and doing everything else! From contract to payment, the critical gap is execution. I've seen execution that is technically excellent and moves faster than integrity checks could catch up, and I've seen execution that shoots bullet holes into contracts as soon as they are signed. Poor execution causes businesses to bleed, yet commercially flawless execution can be planned.

For anyone who thinks execution is for rank and file, read the book. I've always been impressed by bosses who move with the big picture and yet can instinctively sniff out execution loopholes. Great leaders can sniff out loopholes. What I like about the book is what it says about leaders: leaders are realists! As such, the authors suggest that companies that don't execute well usually have leaders who are out of touch with day-to-day realities.

One thing straight - I don't like execution without a clear idea of the bigger picture it serves. As such, I detest and grind my teeth doing things I see no purpose to. Being naturally anti-busy, I don't have any intrinsic need to be seen being busy. However, being free of tasks does not mean I'm not fruitfully engaged - these are separate issues.

One thought summary: There is execution and there is execution. Not all execution have the same output. There's execution that starts with time. This follows time and date. At 9am on a Monday, the restaurant crew shows up. The manager mechanically unlocks the door, the chef systematically prepares the kitchen, the cashier non-chalantly turns on the cash register, and whatever else needs to be done before they open at 10am. Then, at 10pm, they return the restaurant to the condition before they opened in the morning. And there's outcome A.

There's execution that begins with something to achieve for that day. Let's say a shoe shop has to generate $5,000 of sales that day. So when the service staff shows up for work, they are reminded of the sales target and everybody tries to remember it during the day. If a customer buys shoes, they think of the sales target. If a customer walks away, they think of the sales target. Their relief comes when they meet the sales target. Conversely, they are stressed that day if they fail to meet it. And there's outcome B.

Then there's execution that begins from the time each employee is recruited. The business owner shares with him the dream that he has for the business that embraces the business. As each employee hears this dream, he/she is inspired. Progressively, he/she develops an original expression of the owner's dream - that of course, by now, has also become his/her dream. The doorman opens the front door of the boutique hotel, and extends his expression of the dream to the first customer walking in. Likewise, the frontdesk, the bell-hop, the chef, the chambermaid each has an expression of the owner's dream in all they do. And there's outcome C.

Which execution do you think yields the most desirable outcome?

I prefer the execution that yields outcome C. Although it takes a longer time to produce results than the preceding two execution styles, it is one that develops people and their potential. Yet, it can be a strategy that faces most resistance and criticism especially from certain minority 'who need to know everything now and where exactly they stand' and who think discovery is too dangerous. It takes time to convert those who are used to practising time-based and short-term goal-oriented execution to adopt vision-embracing execution. Sadly, some never. But those that do are the valuable leaders of tomorrow. And for these, I think it is worth persevering.

Where you can get it: Kinokuniya S$41.20; National Library
Level of impact: Important towards seeing the bigger picture in all I do
Timing of book: Immaculate