`Execution! The Art of Getting Things Done’

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        (authored by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan)

Part 1:  Why Execution is Needed

One of the first things that Larry Bossidy makes clear is “Putting an execution environment in place is hard but losing it is easy.”  In 2000, 40 of the top 200 Fortune 500 executives were removed – they were either fired or asked to resign.

Part 1:  That’s 1 out of every 5 leaders!



  1. There is a gap between promises made and results delivered – an execution strategy narrows the gap.
  2. Without execution, breakthrough thinking breaks down – big thoughts need to be broken down into concrete steps for action.
  3. Execution must be firstly – a discipline, the job of a business leader, and, part of the culture – to get results.
  4. Leaders need to engage in execution work to get results or else they are ineffective and incomplete.

Their Recommendations:

  1. Involve all people responsible for outcomes in shaping the plan
  2. Ensure that managers indicate ‘how’ they will achieve results before the plan is launched
  3. Set milestones with strict accountability, and
  4. Set up a contingency plan to deal with the unexpected.

Part 2:  The Building Blocks of Execution

With the alarming statistic that 20% of the top 200, Fortune 500 executives were removed in 2000, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan make their point that execution is critical to maintaining leadership.  Now, let’s move on to understanding their recommended building blocks for implementing an effective execution culture. They are as follows:

Building Block 1: The 7 Essential Behaviors of Leaders

They are – set clear goals & priorities and follow through. Insist on realism, reward the doers and expand your people’s capabilities. Know your people and your business, and, KNOW YOURSELF!

Building Block 2: Creating the Framework for Culture Change

As exciting as it is, the impact of a new strategy on a new organizational structure can greatly be decreased if the corporate culture isn’t aligned with these changes. For effective culture change, they are recommending implementing a set of processes which they call a ‘social operating mechanism’ to assist workers change their beliefs and behaviors so that these beliefs and behaviors are tied directly to bottom line results. This involves ‘operationalizing’ culture with new rules of engagement, and, rewarding performance. The social operating mechanism is basically a communication & coaching process that creates action to get results. It involves a consistent and intense informal dialog with all levels of the company to assist all workers focus on turning strategy into performance. This dialog surfaces business realities so that these realities can be realistically addressed. Some of this intense dialog is coaching workers by assisting them break down complex tasks into smaller steps. They recommend ‘robust dialogue’ to surface business realities and that the leader is the role model for exhibiting and determining worker beliefs and behavior throughout the organization.

Building Block 3: Having the Right People at the Right Place

Bossidy and Charan assert that your competitive advantage is due to having quality people and that with quality people you have captured the ‘elusive sustainable advantage’. They tell us that the reason why the right people aren’t in the right place is due to the leader’s lack of knowledge, courage and commitment. The leader may make hiring and promoting decisions based on feeling comfortable with the worker rather than hiring or promoting the right person for the job. They call this a ‘psychological comfort factor’. When hiring and promoting workers, they instruct the leader to look at yourself first. Do you energize your people? Are you decisive on tough decisions? Are you effective at getting things done through other people? Do you follow through and get the results planned for? Given that you are the role model for showing how to ‘get things done’, they go on to recommend that for getting the right people in the right place is to hire people who have a track record of ‘getting things done’ and show enthusiasm for doing so. These are people who have ‘an enormous drive for winning’, know ‘how’ to get things done without burning out staff or damaging the organization, and, can be coached for improvement.

Part 3: The Three Core Processes of Execution

The three core processes of execution are the people process, the strategy process and the operations process. Without a strategy (and plan) to guide the people and the right people in place and the operationalizing of the strategy, execution falters.

The People Process:  Bossidy and Charan emphasize that it’s the people in your organization that are able to translate strategy into operations and indicate that “If you don’t get the people process right, you’ll never fulfill the potential of your business.” They advise linking people to the short, medium and long term strategy first to ensure that you have the right people at the right time. The next step is training people to become future leaders. And lastly, they discuss the importance of a putting in a retention plan while preparing for succession or if a key employee leaves the company. They discuss what to do with nonperformers. They strongly recommend linking the HR function to business results where HR is proactive in recruitment and in training/building personnel for the next level development as per the strategic plan. They go on to discuss the importance of continuous assessment and candid rapport with each and every employee to ensure that the right people are in the right place delivering on business results as per the strategic plan.

The Strategy Process:  Basically a strategy is a directing process to attain a certain positioning in the market place. And once the direction and position is determined, the strategy must be converted into an action plan to show management and staff ‘how to’ execute on it. A strategic plan lays out understandings of where the company is now, where it’s going, the budget, capital resources needed and customer and market demand. The strategic plan analyzes risks (like a SWOT), analyzes competitor positioning and what constitutes success, indicates how the company will grow in the current environment, understands obstacles to success and critical issues facing the business, determines continuing sustainability. A strategic plan lists major milestones – if a milestone is missed, the course of action has changed and therefore the execution strategy needs to change. Lastly, the strategic plan questions the company’s ability to execute the plan, lists assumptions and is flexible enough to be open to new opportunities not foreseen at the time of the planning stage.

The strategic plan should be less than 50 pages and explainable within 20 minutes and describable in 1 page. (That’s what they say!!  In my experience, for most businesses, a strategic plan is 10- 20 pages with 5-7 minutes to explain and can be summarized in 1-2 pages!)

The Operations Process:  The operating plan breaks ‘long term outputs into short term targets’ so that employees have a guide for how to execute on the strategy. The operating plan is the link to reality. Goals are set, action plans are built and all parties involved agree to their commitment on the execution. Quarterly reviews maintain commitment and serve as an opportunity to build contingency plans as needed. Bossidy and Charan are totally adverse to budget planning driving the annual goals and objectives because this type of planning is not connect necessarily to market reality or the reality of how managers/employees get work done. Therefore, it must be the operating unit that commits to building and executing the operating plan that is aligned with the company strategy.