Why is Execution so Difficult?

By March 9, 2016 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on Dec 15th 2015

Lucy Kiruthu

I have been reading Bossidy and Charan book titled Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. As I have read it together with other material on the subject of execution, I have realized just how much organizations are struggling with putting strategy or plans into action. On the contrary, considerable amount of time is being spent putting together very good strategies most of which are never implemented. Why is execution so difficult? Why is it such a daunting task for executives to lead their organizations into doing what they have planned to do?

Most organizations want their customers to be satisfied, they want them to come back and spend more, they want them to tell others about their good experiences and so on. All these are indeed very good intentions, but good intentions are not adequate if they are not followed by action. Key questions that must be answered are – How will we satisfy the customers? What will make them want to come back, to spend more or to refer others to us? How will we make this happen? Once there is consensus on the answers to these questions, the real hard work starts; it is time to make it happen.

Execution happens across the organization. A quote attributed to Sun Tsu states that “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory!” Just like the military in war, members of an organization have to be clear about how to win the battle and the leadership of the general must be unquestionable. Though tact may change along the way the overall objective rarely changes. In the light of the customer experience, this objective is to win the customer. Winning may be in terms of customer numbers, retention levels, satisfaction rates, revenues or any other measurable.

Most organizations today are using the Balance Score Card (BSC) to keep track of their execution outcomes. Kaplan and Norton the co-creators of the concept reported than firms with a formal strategy execution process outperform those without. One of the four perspectives the BSC is the customer perspective.  It would be interesting to find out if firms using the BSC are outperforming those that are not.

What I have witnessed in the market place is that when implementation fails there is always a scapegoat. Most of the times the unfortunate scapegoat is the strategy itself, it was not good enough. Study after study though seems to point elsewhere, to the leadership. No wonder John Maxwell often reminds us that everything falls and rises with the leadership. What the leadership does or does not do affects execution. Form communication to involvement to directing. Other factors that stand out in explaining the execution gap are the structure, the culture, policies and procedures as well as resource allocation. Once again, leadership has a key role to play in all these factors.  Unless execution is a leadership priority, it becomes difficult to get things moving in the right direction. Unless customer Satisfaction is keeping your leaders awake at night, it may remain only but a good intention.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on lucy@evolve-consultants.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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