Sunday, May 21, 2006


The discipline of getting things done
(Chapters 1 to 3)

How many times have we found ourselves surprised when the plans did not achieve what they were supposed to achieve – both in personal life and in professional life?
The book, “Execution – The discipline of getting things done” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan talks about why that happens and how to make sure it does not happen.

The first thing to come under suspicion when results are not achieved is the strategy adopted by the company. However, often strategy by itself is not the cause. Strategies fail because they are not executed well. The authors cite the example of Compaq, where the CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer set out an ambitious strategy and had almost pulled it off before any of his competitors too. He took the company at breakneck speed and transformed it to second biggest computer company. But it lasted just for some time as the execution that was required for that intense a strategy wasn’t provided either by Pfeiffer or his successor Michael Capellas. Soon Michael Dell with an envious execution took his company Dell way ahead of both Compaq and IBM.

To understand execution, three key points are to be kept in mind:

  1. Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy;

  2. Execution is the major job of the business leader;

  3. Execution must be core element of an organization’s culture.

To elaborate a bit, execution is not tactical as believed by people. Tactics are central to execution, but execution is tactics. Execution is fundamental to strategy and has to shape it.
Execution is the job of the business leader. An organization can execute only if the leader’s heart and soul are immersed in the company. The leader must be in-charge of getting things done by running the three core processes: picking other leaders, setting strategic direction, and conducting operations. These actions are substance of execution and leaders cannot delegate them regardless of the size of the organization.

The foremost difference between a manager who believes in execution and one who doesn’t is that the former stresses on why’s and how’s of both setting up and review of strategies. For example that the book cites, Xerox under Richard C Thoman set out on two very ambitious and major change in the structure of the organization and was done without pondering on how the same will be achieved and needless to say the same cost the company dear and it has not emerged out of that decline completely.
And talking about success, the example cited is of EDS, whose new CEO, Dick Brown brought the discipline of execution. In Brown’s words, “The point I tried to make is that when you sign up for what used to be a budget item you are committing for your team and each other. The rest are depending on you. It added a layer of weight and responsibility that was missing before.”
Brown organized a series of 2-day meetings for top 150 executives, exposing them for the first time to the details of the company’s plans, critical issues and finances. “I want you to see the business from my level” he told them at the first meeting.

The authors then list the seven essential behaviors that form the building block of execution:

  1. Know your people and your business;

  2. Insist on realism;

  3. Set clear goals and priorities;

  4. Follow through;

  5. Reward the doers;

  6. Expand people’s capabilities;

  7. Know yourself.

A bit about each:

  • Know you people and your business – Leaders have to live their business. Good people like being quizzed and a good leader quizzes his people hard and gets to know them. Larry, one of the authors, tells from his personal experience when he was in Honeywell, that he used to meet with aas many people as he can during his plant visits and gave them a slide presentation about where the company is. Then he fielded questions for an hour and tried to sense from the questions thrown at him how well the plant manager communicates with the workforce. This was followed by a private dialogue with the plant manager as per the requirement.

  • Insist on Realism – Realism is at the heart of execution. Xerox’s attempts to make two major changes in the company simultaneously wasn’t being real to the ground realities. Realism also encourages questions like “How am I doing vis-à-vis my competitors? Have they made a lot more progress?” and discourages self comparison like, “Have I made progress from last year to this year?”

  • Set clear goals and priorities – Leaders with focus on execution have very few strong clear as crystal priorities. Along with having clear goals, the leader strives for simplicity in general. The leaders speak simply and directly, plainly and forthright about what’s on their mind

  • Follow through – Follow through gives the goals and priorities an added strength. It also makes the people in the organization realize that they are being monitored,

  • Reward the doers – If you want the people to produce specific results, you reward them accordingly. The organization must make a cler distinction between performers and non-performers and rewards should commensurate with the performance achieved.

  • Expand peoples capabilities – This is done mainly through coaching. As a leader, one has acquired a lot of knowledge and one of the most important job is to pass it on to next generation.

  • Know yourself – As all know, leading an organization requires strength of character. In execution it’s absolutely critical. And for execution, we need Emotional Fortitude. Without emotional fortitude you cannot be honest with yourself, deal honestly with business and organizational realities or give people forthright assessments. A lack of emotional fortitude does not allow one to tolerate diversity of viewpoints, mental architectures and personal backgrounds that organizations need in their members in order to avoid becoming ingrown. And if one can’t do these things, one cannot execute. The authors, from their years of experiences, point to four core qualities that make up emotional fortitude:

  • Authenticity

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-mastery

  • Humility