Sunday, April 24, 2011

Execution Matters More (than Strategy)

What is execution?  Execution is the ability to get things done and to drive results, even in the face of unexpected obstacles.  It is the ability to make decisions and solve problems that ultimately result in achieving strategic goals.  Strategic goals focus activities on success, but single-minded attention to flawless day-to-day execution is how success is achieved. 

Mountain bike racing requires a very high level of fitness.  In any race, there may be 20+ racers that are fit enough to win, and being the fittest and strongest is not enough to guarantee success.  Instead, winning always results from flawless execution before and during a race.

In business, I have come across many great ideas, products and strategies that I think should be clear winners.  But unfortunately, too many great ideas, products and strategies fail due to poor execution.  The following is what I learned from years of mountain bike racing and these same lessons definitely apply in business:
  • Plan your execution
  • Metrics drive performance
  • Obsess on improvement

Plan your execution:  Over a decade of racing, I steadily improved my race results by what I call “riding smart.”  I learned simple things that made big differences: pre-ride the racecourse, note time checks at key check points, pay attention to the competition, meticulously prepare your bike, your gear, your nutrition, and absolutely make and follow a race strategy. 

The parallel in business is having an operating plan.  An operating plan details the things that link your strategy to your actions.  You must know what it will take to execute your strategy in very specific objectives and activities.  For example, ZTEC Instruments is a technology company, and our operational objectives include targeted market and account acquisitions, key product developments, and manufacturing improvement goals.  These objectives are specific and measureable.  When planning, we ensure adequate detail and exercise sufficient skepticism to avoid guessing and wishful thinking.  We look at risks and plan upside and downside contingencies.  Although, things never go exactly according to plan, we have the framework that defines our path to success.

Metrics drive performance:  In biking, I learned early that measuring and recording my training times created a psychology where I was constantly trying to better my previous best.  I have been charting results for decades now, and can describe the state of my current fitness or the cycles that occur throughout the year.  I can rattle off my best and average times at many points on numerous regular training rides.  When I am close to a “best time”, I will push myself to the limit to beat my previous result. 

The same psychology applies in business.  There is a common expression that “what gets measured gets done.”  Measuring and reporting results will absolutely focus attention on improving those results.  As a leader, you have to make sure that the organization measures the right things to focus energy on what really matters.  Charting the correct metrics is a valuable management tool in measuring and driving execution.

Obsess on improvement:  Above, I describe how constantly trying to beat my personal best in biking creates a drive to achieve better and better performance.  This obsession with constant improvement extends beyond results to include preparation, training, gear, nutrition, etc. During race season, I scrutinize anything that might provide better performance and results. Every detail makes a difference.

Again, constant improvement is a common philosophy in business.  The Japanese call this search for perfection "Kaizen", and Toyota has evolved it into an art form.  In practice, I have found that most people are uncomfortable with the on-going change that constant improvement requires.  Management must create and enforce a culture where risk-taking is rewarded and the comfort of the status quo is avoided.  Our competition is not standing still and if we stop improving, we will be left behind.

In summary, I reiterate that many great strategies go unexecuted.  Often the strategy is blamed as being flawed, but I believe that the flaw more often lies within the execution.  Strategy matters, but execution matter more!

This is the third blog in the series:

No comments:

Post a Comment