How Great Business Leaders Execute Good Plans

While starting projects is easy for a lot of people, getting them across the finish line is the tricky part.

Just consider some of these stats:

According to the Harvard Business Review, “a recent survey of more than 400 global CEOs found that executional excellence was the number on challenge facing corporate leaders in Asia, Europe, and the United States, heading a list of some 80 issues.”

“When we teach strategy to MBAs, 95% of the time is spent on the theory of strategy, while at best 5% is spent on execution. While in the real world, for the majority of people it is the exact opposite -- 5%, maybe 10% is spent on strategy, while 95% is focused on executing our strategy,” says Karl Moore, contributing to Forbes.

The Wharton School of Business reports, “Once a plan is decided upon, there is often surprisingly little follow-through to ensure that is is executed… a lack of expertise in execution can have serious consequences… Much of that gap between expectation and performance is a failure to execute the company’s strategy effectively.”

As we can see both statistically and in our own personal experiences, executing a strategy is far easier planned than done.

Below are 4 principles great business leaders keep in mind when they approach strategy planning.

1. Execution is Paramount

The bottom line: in business, execution is paramount! I believe vision is sold by the pound because there’s an unlimited supply of it. Traction or execution is sold by the carat because it’s rare and extremely valuable.

The chasm between not being good and being great is huge, and companies that can execute ultimately win because everything else is just talk until it’s done. That’s the beauty of execution: a small team of A players can run circles around a much larger team of C players. Understanding the market and the quality of your execution determine how many referrals you’re going to get and your reputation. So it’s mission critical.

Companies that can execute consistently can run circles around their competitors. When you’re great at execution, you’re not afraid to take chances with your business.

2. High Accountability = High Execution

Execution is a combination of having the right people, the right leadership, and the right culture. When you have a healthy culture, you have an ecosystem in which high levels of accountability exist; if you have a poor culture, there will be low levels of accountability across the board.

High accountability = high execution. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that. If we’re accountable to each other and have a culture of accountability, when somebody says they’re going to do something, it gets done. They’re essentially attaching their name and reputation and ability to the execution of the process.

Forbes noted that the cadence of accountability is the “discipline where execution really takes place.” By contrast, if we have low levels of accountability, it’s really difficult to get strong levels of execution because ultimately we can’t see where we’re supposed to be.

3. You Accomplish Goals by Measuring Progress

You commit to being great at executing and getting better at it by tracking how many of your weekly to-dos are getting to-done. Without a system to keep you on track, it’s very difficult to get better in this arena.

Scorecards give employees something measurable to aspire to. Whoever said, “whatever can be measured can be managed,” was right on the money,  because execution is about visibility, setting a goal, and then tracking your progress toward it until the goal is accomplished.

There’s a strong mindset of execution in the military, a culture of being laser-focused on completing tasks -- whether it’s in combat, a peacekeeping mission, in a training school, or ongoing training within a unit. You can do the same in business.

4. Plan By Quarters and Rely on Rocks

One thing I’ve learned from my friend Gino Wickman is that people have about 90 days of attention span. I see this in myself; when I look back at my career, I think, “Wow, I really should have segmented my goals into quarters. I would have been a lot more effective in reaching them.” Planning by quarters allows you to get an overview of the bigger goals -- the goals that are 1 year, 3 years, and 10 years out.

It makes it a lot easier to reach those goals by creating a 90-Day World, having everyone execute within that 90-Day World, and then have everyone re-enlist for another 90 days of mission execution. These 90-day periods are very, very powerful; if we’re executing at a very high percentage -- 80% or better -- then we’re fundamentally changing the company and going beyond where we were yesterday.

Chris Hallberg