The Art of Execution

In their book, Execution, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan present us with some great ideas on how to implement a culture of execution within an organization. They focus on three core processes: the people process, the strategy process, and the operations process (see p.22 of the book). These three processes are inter-connected and essential for successful execution. There is a need for strong and active leadership in their model because the leader is responsible for hiring the right people and putting them in the right roles. One of the ket points of the book is that once the right people and strategy are in place, accountability will be achieved by linking the people and strategy to an operating process where specific initiatives are implemented.

I believe this is true, and I want to build on that idea because true accountability will not be achieved until employees take it on themselves. Most execution fails because the people responsible for doing the work don't feel accountable for doing it right or what they are doing doesn't align with the strategy. You can have the right people and the right strategy, but if there is no emotional connection between the people and the expected results, those results can't be achieved.

The most successful organizations have the ability to create that emotional connection. Their employees are motivated to achieve results and make improvements, not because they are trying to complete activities on a plan, but because they are emotionally invested in the results. This is a level of self-mastery that employees achieve, regardless of their position in the company. It is that self-mastery, that ability to want to improve, that desire to do things right, that separates the best companies in the world from everyone else.

Here are some keys to creating that culture of accountability:

  • Employees not only support the strategic vision, but they are emotionally connected to it
  • Employees clearly understand how they can move the organization closer to achieving that vision
  • Employees are provided with the tools and support they need to be successful
  • Employees are empowered to make decisions that move the organization closer to achieving the best outcomes

Why are nurses in a hospital so focused on healing patients and making them comfortable? Because they are emotionally connected to the outcomes. No manager has to tell a good nurse to get a patient an extra pillow or spend an extra few minutes talking with them to make them more at ease. Great nurses do that because they feel accountable for the result, which is a happy patient and a good medical outcome. They will do whatever it takes to help achieve those outcomes.

The key to successful execution is to find ways for employees to hold themselves accountable for the expected outcomes. No incentive or punishment system will ever replicate the success you have when employees take personal ownership for the results.

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