Excellence University Blog

5 Execution Principles for Focused Doing

by John Spence

September 9th, 2007

Here is a copy of a recent note I sent to a CEO I am coaching.  He is a fantastic guy, really, really smart and does a superior job with his company.  He knows all of the things in this memo well (as you likely do too!) it is simply that he needed to be reminded of it – and more importantly, pushed hard to do a better job of executing these key ideas in a consistent way throughout his organization.

Here is a re-cap of what we discussed today: Execution

1. FOCUS — get your top managers focused on the 1 or 2 absolutely key items they must deliver.  What we have called the “no excuse” issues. These are the things they simply MUST achieve.  Also, help them get their “to do” lists shorter. What is not important? What can you say “no” to — in order to keep them clearly focused on consistently delivering on the top issues? Make sure they clearly understand what is expected of them – and that they have all of the support and resources necessary to meet their obligations.

2. Run superb meetings. Short, focused, with a specific agenda, clear outcomes, written goals and commitments.  Do NOT waste any time — focus on the key things, discuss what is important, assign tasks, gain clear commitment, write it all down — and them hold people 100% accountable for disciplined execution and delivery of promised results.

3. As part of holding people accountable: delegate away some responsibility for putting on the pressure.  It cannot be only the leader that is hammering for results.  It needs to be the entire management team ALL holding each other accountable.  At this stage it might not be realistic for you to get 100% support from all of your team, but at least you can build up a core group of people who support you and will step forward in the meetings to assist you in strongly holding people accountable for missing their numbers, not delivering on their promises. The pressure needs to be strong and from numerous directions.

4.  Celebration / Punishment. After you have gained commitment on clear and specific outcomes – and ensured that people have all of the support / help / resources necessary to meet their goals – when they do make the goal you need to lead the way in celebrating their success.  A public word of praise, going out for a team dinner or a few beers, a small monetary bonus or other valued reward.  If they work really hard and deliver stellar results – they deserve to get a big pat on the back and your sincere gratitude.  On the other hand, there must also be ramifications for consistently NOT achieving their goals.  Everyone misses or makes a mistake from time-to-time, but if someone is consistently not delivering on what they promise—there must be some sort of punishment. Otherwise, you are sending a signal that you are not serious, that people can miss deadlines, not achieve goals, not deliver on their promise… and nothing bad will happen.

5. Have a Plan B.  If there are people on the team that are consistently not delivering results, who cause problems and who are not helping the team move toward success, then you need to have a clear plan for how you will deal with that.  Step one is always to first look in the mirror and examine what role you are playing in them not succeeding. Have you given them all of the help, support, training, resources, information, assistance and guidance you possibly can?  Have you made it totally clear to them that they are NOT meeting expectations, specifically what they need to do to improve and what the ramifications will be if they cannot improve – or the rewards if they do? If you feel like you have done everything you can and they are just NOT making any progress, you need to spend some serious time finding the highest quality replacement you possibly can. If you do have to terminate the non-performing employee (especially a key manager) it is incredibly critical that you be able to replace them immediately with a truly superb new person. This might be an internal person or someone from the outside, but the key point is that they need to come in very quickly, hit the ground running, and clearly demonstrate to everyone that they will do a super job and really help the team. If you can make it a smooth and positive transition it will be very good reflection on your leadership.

The key word for this discussion was: PATIENCE

You said it better than I could have, if you are going to be in this business for another 20 or 25 years, you need to work hard at taking a longer-term approach and not rushing some things.  With a clear plan for the future and a solid grasp of your business and professional priorities, it is much easier to sit back and realize that everything does not have to get done in the next 3 to 6 months.  There are certain things you absolutely MUST focus on in the short term, numbers you have to deliver, projects that have to be completed, things that cannot wait and do deserve a strong sense of urgency.

However, there are also numerous important issues that would be better handled with a great deal more patience. Holding back a little, choosing not to bring it up in “this” meeting, not the right things to discuss at “this” time – or with “this” particular person. This does not mean you give them up, or have to wait for years and years — only for a few months or possibly a year – which is the blink of an eye compared in a 25 year career. Be prudent, be clever, be politically savvy, be patient. All things in time.

Which brought us to our final topic of what must you do to position yourself over the long-run as the perfect candidate for taking on more and more responsibility and power in the organization?  Together we developed the following list:

  1. Understand your business extremely well. Be a true expert on your business, your industry, your market, your competitors, your products, your technology. Know these things intimately… at a deeper level that any other person in the organization.
  2. Be clever in how you run your business and consistently deliver your numbers.
  3. Have the ability to focus in on the key business issues and be a superb problem solver on those key issues.
  4. Surround yourself with a team of very bright people that can help you solve the key business issues effectively.
  5. Be a superb leader – that people truly want to follow.
  6. Have the ability to be a strategic thinker, to see where the organization should be in 5 to 10 years, so that you can begin to position the organization now to meet the demands of the future.
  7. Be politically savvy. Understand how to operate both personally and professionally in a large, bureaucratic, multi-national company. Have the patience and prudence to know what to say and when to say it – and when to be quiet. Do not be paranoid – be aware and have a strategy.
  8. Lead a balanced life.  Work hard and play hard.  Have a quality home and family life, take vacations, stay fit, have enjoyable hobbies… pursue balance in order to avoid burnout.
  9. As my client says: It is so damn simple!  Yes, it is —- but staying focused on these things – every day, in every meeting, without getting rushed and letting them drop… is very, very difficult.

Article Filed under: I. WATER (Team/Group Excellence)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Debashish Brahma  |  October 23rd, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Excellent analytical mind.Very good suggestion very difficult to follow. Regards
    Debashish Brahma

  • 2. Stephanie Bemiss  |  October 30th, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I have found this article very useful. Even though i am not a CEO and only a student these different steps have with out a doubt helped my team and i. I am a student and currently taking a human relations class. I am a manager and in charge of making sure my team runs smoothly and stays on track. Like in every situation it i sometimes hard to stay focused on our main goal and get it done. Before reading this article i was not even aware that a few of us are very unfocused. With in the last few meetings i have had with my team, i consciously used these methods and i have found a tremendous turn around with everyones focus and attitude. I just wanted to say how much this article helped me and i am excited to use this further into my career.

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