Excellence in Execution

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I would say execution is the link between having a great business idea and
obtaining business results. When organizations struggle to achieve what they
set out to, then their execution is weak.
More often than not it is felt that when
it comes to execution, it's the role of the shop floor manager. According to the
Conference Board's survey of 769 global CEOs from 40 countries, Excellence
of Execution was rated as the top concern of CEOs
of the 121 different
challenges .

In the book "Execution" by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, they state that
Execution is just not tactics, it is fundamental to strategy and has to shape it;
and it is the major job of the Business Leader
. The book goes on to explain
that Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats,
questioning, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability. It
includes making assumptions about the business environment, assessing the
organization's capabilities, linking strategy to operations and the people who are
going to implement the strategy, synchronizing those people and their various
disciplines, and linking rewards to outcomes.

If you sit through a management meeting of strategy or business review and
what is discussed is just the a set of numbers met and the gaps, then I would
say there is no "Execution" culture. If the enablers to achieve the results, the
causes for failure and the solutions to bridge the gap are discussed; then there
is an execution culture. And If Operational Excellence tools and approach is
used to support the enables, then there is Excellence in Execution.

Organizations that embrace operational excellence have their Six Sigma belts,
Lean Practitioners or personnel trained on any other improvement methodology,
work on improvement projects and drive improvements by cutting costs or by
increasing revenues. However if this doesn't become a culture in the company
and if all functional and business heads do not use the scientific approach in
their plans and reviews for the regular business activity, then they are not really
leveraging on the available knowledge and techniques. When leaders use
scientific approaches then the business strategy evolved will be robust and in
line with the corporate strategy and vision; there will be clear plans on how to
execute the strategy and adhering to the plan will fetch the desired results.

To drive this point let's look at an example, not from Business or Operations but
from the Organizational Development and Learning area (OD&L ). If we see
that year after year the organization comes up with new interventions, but they
are not followed through and driven to a logical end, then it's just waste of money
and resources. The tools and initiatives may sound fancy to an external person,
but did it make business sense is the question to be asked. For example, a
company set up an Assessment Development Centre in year one, but instead of
validating the gaps identified and implementing plans to close the gaps; chose
to have a new initiative ( say 360 degree assessment) in year two. On the other
hand what is desired is make sure that the right OD &L intervention is made
first and foremost and then followed through to its logical conclusion. There
should also be measures of effectiveness to ensure that there is a clear return on

As stated in the book "Execution", leaders who excel in execution immerse
themselves in the substance of execution and even some of the key details.
They use their knowledge of excellence to constantly probe and question.

I would say one way to see how robust execution has been in the past in the
OD& L function would be to look at three years data, list all the interventions
and see what impact they have made to the culture and business. Questions to
ask are- has the money invested resulted in business improvement, enhanced
knowledge and skill of people and has made positive behavioral changes in
groups and individuals; or on the other hand,
has an intervention lead to de-motivation of good candidates, and has
inconsistent approach caused loss of credibility of the management, and not
made any significant improvement in business and behaviors.

When leaders are exposed to operational excellence tools or concepts they
can apply them to excel in execution. For example an X Matrix approach can
be used ( example given in the figure) to tie up the corporate objectives with
that of the OD&L , and establish clear metrics to measure the results. These
leaders can recognize the individual processes and understand the interlinks
between the processes. They will begin to take decisions based on facts and
find methods to verify outcomes and validate approaches; and focus on the
return on investment made .

It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the details of an X Matrix, but it
can be noted that herein that all aspects are tied in very well in the matrix. The
OD & L objectives is linked to and derived from the organizational objectives.
The tactical activities to achieve the L&D goals and the related improvement
priorities are also evolved.

Poor execution not only leads to loss in revenue due to inefficiencies, but huge
customer dissatisfaction. Whenever we get upset with the telecom company or
the airlines or the bank; it's most likely not the fault of the front line staff or the call
 centre officer; but the reflection of a companywide poor execution culture.


 Pradeep Kumar E.T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma & Lean and a Certified
Executive Coach is the Chief Catalyst at Beyond Z Consulting LLP. Feedback
can be e- mailed to pradeep@businessgyan.com