Leadership and Execution: The Art of How to Get Things Done

One of my favorite quotes attributed to Will Rogers is “Eventually everything degenerates into work”.   Peter Drucker was known to say something similar, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”


I use this quote often in conversations with company owners in regard to progress (or lack thereof). Too often, I find talented business owners and leaders frustrated because their organization isn’t moving forward, and they can’t understand why.   I then explain that many leaders can paint a clear vision or stretch goal, communicate the goal with excitement, and motivate everyone to charge ahead but… motivated individuals charging ahead is only part of the solution.  

The answer lies in managers being trained and disciplined in the competency of execution.  Otherwise, the pep rally stalls as the work gets hard and months later the results are still dismal.  This is why you see so many CEO’s of large companies churn at a rapid pace.  Many have the charisma and the gift of vision, but lack the skill of execution or don’t place personnel around them that can execute.

For growing companies, the problem of execution is very real.  As a start-up or small company, you often hire great technicians who get the work done and this works.  As you grow, you find technicians lack the competency of long- range planning and execution and also the ability to align people, strategy and operations.  The result is meetings to talk about the poor results from last quarter and attempts to pump the team up to try harder.   The technicians do try harder, often by becoming more of a micro manager, and soon thereafter morale plummets and the results stay the same.

So, how is this problem fixed?  Let me share 10 practical ideas that when implemented, enable you and your company to become skilled and proficient at execution.

1.    Build execution into your corporate culture.   Culture is all about norms of behavior that you expect in the organization.  As you study your values, beliefs, or corporate competencies, does planning, accountability, follow through, commitment, and customer experience make your list?  If not, they need to.  Behaviors based on execution are what deliver results.

2.     Hire those with track record of execution.  As you grow, professional managers who have proven they can execute are needed.  Move to being intentional in the interviewing process about execution.  Ask questions around proof of their ability to perform through goal setting activities, planning, people development, and processes.

3.     Build strategic and operational plans.  Many small to mid size companies lack a formal business plan.  Often the owner has the plan in their head and the strategy is hope but hope isn’t a strategy at all.   To execute well, you need a clear strategic plan and operational plan that is updated on a consistent routine basis.  A plan that has real objectives, strategies, action plans and milestones.   that can be communicated to everyone in the organization.  Most importantly a plan that has input and buy-in from all levels of the organization.  

4.    Place the right people to the right places.  People make things happen.  But only when the right people are in the right place collaborating together.  A leader’s job is to determine competencies of their people and place them accordingly.

5.    Understand the day to day issues and needs.  Leaders must be in touch with the business.   Not by micro managing everything but spending enough time and asking enough questions to understand what the real issues and opportunities are.  By doing this, you will be able to avoid being “led astray” by managers and more importantly, you understand clearly what needs to be planned and executed.

6.     Utilize Performance Management and Improvement. In conjunction with knowing your staff, you need a system to train, coach and evaluate their ability and discipline to execute.  Train everyone on people, strategy and operational processes and systems that ultimately improve our ability to execute.  

7.    Create career ladders and succession planning.  Stability breeds complacency and stagnant thinking.  Every company needs a strong career succession plan where new people come in to a department or ladder where they move to gain new exposure to other areas.  New people bring new and fresh ideas and motivation to execute their ideas.

8.    Personalized Goal and Milestone Plans.  Buy in is critical to building a culture of execution for a company.  This means that every level has input and buy in to the goals and milestones.  Once this occurs, alignment becomes personal and motivation is driven by their commitment to what they developed.

9.    Collaboration.  Results never happen in a vacuum.  To be effective at execution, strong collaboration is required.  This takes a thorough knowledge of team members skills and competencies.

10.    Encourage Critical Thinking.  Executing and accomplishing a goal is fantastic.  But the real learning is knowing the why and how behind the achievement.  Make it a point to not just reward others when a goal is reached, but also get others to share the process that led to success.  

Will Rogers and Peter Drucker are right.  Great intentions don’t equal great results.  Promises are easy to make, getting stuff done is the hard work.  

Here’s the good news.  With proper attention and implementation to ideas I have listed here, you and your company can get back to getting stuff done and celebrating success when targets are reached.  And the best part – happier employees who love their job (or at least like it).

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