If you know me well, you know how much I love big ideas – those inspired daring destinations. I love innovation in every aspect of the business – new products, new advertising, new technology, new designs, new distribution systems. The bolder, the more innovative, the better.
You also know my convictions about serving people and the enterprise well. I believe we can create workplaces where people can thrive, contribute and grow as people. By placing the right people in the right positions, with clear expectations and coaching support, we can help them perform their best.
But here’s something you might not know about me. While I am personally not very skilled in this area, I deeply respect the value of fabulous execution. I love good planning and pacing of the business plan –- I appreciate sound processes and project management disciplines. One of my bosses, early in my career, said, “a mediocre idea, executed brilliantly wins every time.” When I was young and inexperienced, I argued with him – because I thought the brilliant ideas were so important. But now that I am wiser and more experienced, I repeat his quote to my teams almost every day. There is no idea, mediocre or brilliant, that will transform the performance of your business – if you don’t execute well.
Here are some questions to challenge your thinking on the topic of execution:
- Are you focused on the vital few? Those of us who love big ideas, routinely attempt to execute too many ideas at once. One way to help yourself with this is to make sure you take the time to build out the business case for the idea – and then compare it to the other possibilities. Don’t allow work to begin on the idea until you have carefully evaluated where this fits in the priorities of the business plan. Then if you decide it is a priority, I encourage you to be disciplined in taking something off the list of priorities for your team. Don’t overwhelm the capability of your organization.
- Does your team have strong process people and are you listening to them? If you love big ideas, chances are you don’t listen well to people who challenge ideas. In fact, you may discount their questions assuming “they just don’t get the potential” of your idea. Unless you plan to fail, step up your listening skills with the people who challenge your ideas. In fact, ask them to tell you all the pitfalls that are likely in implementation – and help you address them. Let them give the idea a far better chance of success.
- Are the metrics for implementation and success clearly defined? As you map out the implementation plan, are the goals for success clearly defined and understood by everyone involved? And are the project plan milestones clearly defined and understood by everyone on the team? Many teams post the metrics and milestones on the wall of the team’s “war room” to make sure the team never loses site of the desired outcomes. This makes it easy to check progress at each project update.
- Does the team leader run crisp, productive meetings? The fastest way to slow down a project is to run long, boring, unfocused meetings – that have no clarity of purpose or outcome. Once the project is planned, schedule the team meetings with dates/times so everyone knows what to expect. Ahead of every meeting, set a crisp, focused agenda on what needs to be accomplished. Make sure the agenda goes out with enough time for the team to prepare their portions. A well-run meeting with timely decisions is the key to high team productivity.
These are just a few questions to get you thinking about the importance of execution. For a full exploration of this topic I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. It provides a practical, concrete approach to the discipline of execution – plus plenty of case study examples.
As leaders who dare to serve, we must have deep respect for the discipline of execution. It is essential to setting up our teams for success. Without it, serving can’t perform.