Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Nine Steps for Effective Execution

I was just reading a fantastic post by my good friend Jack Malcolm on his blog Practical Eloquence about what it truly takes to be superb at giving presentations and speeches. His article, entitled “Excellence is Not an Act,” points out that a major factor in gaining superior speaking skills is having the discipline to practice and continually work for incremental improvements. Jack’s post gave me several great ideas that really sparked my thinking about the topic of discipline, so I wanted to share a few key ideas on what I feel it takes to be “excellent” at creating a culture of disciplined execution within your organization.

For that past seven years I have been teaching a class at the Wharton School of Business on the topic of “Strategic Thinking” and one of the critical aspects of that program is understanding that having the best strategy in the world is useless… if you cannot effectively execute it! I typically get 100 – 200 senior executives at that workshop and the consensus from all of the past classes is that most organizations only execute about 10–15% of their strategy. WOW, if that number is accurate (and unfortunately I believe it is) – and YOUR organization is in that range — think of the lost revenues, profits, and market share. The numbers are potentially massive and should be a major wake-up call that this is a serious issue… and a HUGE opportunity. Imagine what would happen if you could instill a strong culture of disciplined execution across your entire organization. The rewards would be significat to say the least.

So, a few years ago I undertook a project to learn as much as I could about what all of the world’s “Organizational Execution Experts” felt were the MOST important keys to effective execution. After more than 20 books and about 5,000 pages of reading – a VERY clear pattern emerged.  Author, after author, after author, after auther — and my personal experience working with hundreds of companies around the world – showed me that there are basically nine specific steps to effective execution.

The nine steps for effective execution are:

  1. Tie execution into the vision and values of the organization.
  2. Focus the organization on a few key strategies to execute.
  3. A guiding coalition of key leaders must demonstrate personal commitment to being living examples of disciplined execution.
  4. It is essential that all of the major strategies and objectives of the organization be fully aligned.  When priorities are confusing or at odds, it leads to failure.
  5. Create systems and processes to ensure repeatable success.
  6. Once you have established a focused strategy and identified key priorities for execution, over-communicate the goals and priorities to be sure that the entire organization is aligned and focused on the most important things.
  7. Be sure to give all of the training, support, resources and help necessary to allow people to be successful in executing the key objectives.
  8. Expect the unexpected.  Adjust and innovate continuously in response to the marketplace and the customer to ensure the organization is still focused on executing to the appropriate objectives.
  9. Shower people who are effective in execution with praise, rewards and recognition to demonstrate to the rest of the organization what behaviors are desired.  Deal quickly and decisively with any person in the organization that is unwilling or unable to execute the key strategies.

My challenge to you is this; look at any project in your organization that has stalled… any strategy that is NOT being fully implemented, and you are likely to find that you have not accomplished one or more of the nine steps for effective execution. This nine-step cycle is not complex… but it is difficult to build this model into the systems and culture of your company to ensure that EVERY major project, initiative, strategy, and objective is approached with a strong sense of urgency and a robust process for absolutely ensuring its successful execution.

A lot of people “know” what they need to do to make their organization more successful… but it is a precious few that posses the discipline to take those great ideas… and turn them into positive action on a daily basis.

I hope you found this post of value, please feel free to link, copy and share it with anyone you feel would like to better understand what it takes to effectively execute their business objectives.

Take good care — John Spence

Comments

  1. this is great John. Good pointers that remind me what we need to do daily. Thanks for sharing.

  2. John, as usual you are so right about this. I would add a number 10 to the list, which is ruthlessly, yet graciously, weed out those from the organization who cannot do the first nine steps–particularly managers.

    Awesomely great as always. Deb

  3. John,

    All of this makes total sense and is very applicable. The issue I see surfacing in so many organizations is the constant shift in priorities and strategies. The pace of change is so quick and quite frequently what is todays leadership priority changes on a weekly/monthly basis. This makes it very difficult for effective execution of the nine steps on a consistent basis.

    Thoughts?

    • johnspen says:

      Pete – you hit the nail on the head. There are four major issues that cause most organizations to struggle, falter and fail.

      Ignorance
      Inflexibility
      Indifference
      Inconsistency

      “Inconsistency” is changing direction so often that you never gain any momentum. I see this in organizations far, far too often – “New Month — New Direction” This is typically an issue with top management (and middle management) — often times trying to justify their existence and filling their time with strategy meetings and deveoping new projects. Yet they do not realize that they are pushing 10 new major projects a month down to the front lines… who are already overwhelmed. A critical skill of a highly successful organization is “keeping the main things the main things.” Focus + Discipline + Action
      Thanks for the great feedback Pete!!!

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