The history of business is littered with organisations with excellent strategies that failed due to poor execution. The greatest strategy is useless, without the ability to execute it! This is where the book Execution: The disciple of getting things done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan can help. It’s an in your face book, describing the disciplines needed to get things done in an enterprise.
The book describes execution as “the gap between what a company’s leaders want to achieve and the ability of their organizations to deliver it“. The book is authored by:
- Larry Bossidy the chairman and CEO of Honeywell International, Inc. He also served as a CEO for Allied Signal between 1991 and 1999. Larry is widely acknowledge for the transformation of AlliedSignal into one of the world’s most admired companies. He also served in a number of executive positions at the General Electric Company.
- Ram Charan an advisor to CEO’s and senior executives for a broad range of organisations, a author of What the CEO wants You to Know and Boards that Work. He has also contributed numerous articles for Harvard Business Review. Ram has a D.B.A and M.B.A. from Harvard Business School where is taught.
- Charles Burke a writer and editor, previously a successful editor at the Fortune magazine.
The primary purpose of the book is to give the reader an understanding of what it takes to execute, that is, to get things done in organisations. They describe execution as a discipline, “built a company’s strategy, its goals, and its culture“.
The book is divided into three parts as follows.
Part I: Why Execution is Needed
We all understand the importance of execution, unless we act on our plans they’re essentially useless, and as the authors point out, most strategies fail as the result of poor execution, and not due to poor strategic planning, this covers part I!
Part II: The Building Blocks of Execution
According to the authors Execution consist of the following three building blocks:
Building Block 1: The Leaders Seven Essential Behaviors
The leaders seven essential behaviors are described as follows:
- Know your people and your business – “Leaders have to live their businesses. In companies that don’t execute, the leaders are usually out of touch with the day-to-day realities”. This is something that I have observed in large corporations, the phrase “ivory tower” comes to mind, leaders spend too much time in their offices and too little time with their people.
- Insist on realism – “Realism is the heart of execution, but many organizations are full of people who are trying to avoid or shade reality”.
- Set clear goals and priorities – “Leaders who execute focus on a very few clear priorities that everyone can grasp.”
- Follow through – “The failure to follow through is wide spread in business, and a major cause of poor execution”
- Reward the doers – “If you want people to produce specific results, you reward them according”
- Expand people’s capabilities – “Coaching is the single most important part of expanding others’ capabilities”
- Know yourself – “Without what we call emotional fortitude, you can’t be honest with yourself, deal honestly with business and organisational realities, or give people forthright assessments.”
Building Block 2: Creating the Framework for Cultural Change
This involves changing “people’s behavior so that they produce results”, by “linking rewards to performance and making linkages transparent” and having “robust dialogue” as ultimately “leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate”.
Building Block 3: The Job no Leader Should Delegate – Having the Right People in the Right Place
It essential to have the right people, especially those in leadership positions, in the right place. The authors believe that leaders should “contribute as much as 40 percent of their time and energy, in one form or another, to selecting, appraising, and developing people
Part III: The Three Core Processes of Execution
Part III discusses the three core processes that require focused management attention to ensure effective execution, namely:
- The People Process – “A robust people process does three things. It evaluates individuals accurately and in depth. It provides a framework for identifying and developing the leadership talent – at all levels and of all kinds – the organization will need to execute its strategies down the road. And it fills the leadership pipeline that’s the basis of a strong succession plan.” The people process is regarded by the authors as the most important of all three processes and the devote a large part of the book discussing the importance of candid discussion required to hold individuals accountable. The key is getting the right people in the right jobs.
- The Strategy Process – “a good strategy planning process also requires the utmost attention to the hows of executing the strategy” The authors emphasis the importance of creating strategies that involve all parties and encourage robust debate, appropriate resources and regular strategic reviews throughout the year.
- The Operations Process – “The strategy process defines where a business wants to go, the people process defines who’s going to get it there. The operating plan provides the path for those people. It breaks long-term output into short-term targets.”
The authors view these processes as the real job of executing a business strategy, keeping the organisation social systems real and honest through robust dialogue.
The book is logically developed and well organised conveying concepts and knowledge clearly. A feature of the book that I enjoyed is the short pieces throughout the book from the Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, written in the first person, giving a personal insight into the topic under discussion. After reading these comments made by the author,s you’re struck by their street smarts obviously through extensive experience in the “school of life”. This results in pragmatic recommendations.
The book is practical, in that the authors provide helpful suggestions based upon their extensive experience. Although their arguments are sound and well presented I’m left with the nagging feeling that there are few leaders with the emotional maturity and courage to apply the process’s as effectively and easily as described. This view, I feel is accurate, as in July 2001 Larry Bossidy was asked by the board of directors of Honeywell International, after it merged with AlliedSignal to return and get the company back on track. This given that the management of AlliedSignal had extensive exposure to the culture of execution.
This book gets a buy recommendation from me, especially for management in a business unit or organisational leadership position. Small and medium organisations may not find all the ideas and suggestions relevant to them as smaller businesses as generally smaller organisations have highly engaged management with little room for non-performers to hide.
Tom Peter’s rated this his best book of 2005, stating:
“My choice as my favorite Biz Book of 2005 is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy (& Ram Charan)…… Amazingly it is, as I see it, the 1st & only book wholly devoted to “getting things done,” and the 1st and only book that suggests the there is a describable, “systematic” “discipline” (and “culture”) of getting things done.”