The Discipline of Getting Things Done
In today's business environment, it is critical for organizations to respond quickly when the unexpected happens. The organizations that can do this best are ones that know how to execute well. They design strategies that are more road maps than rigid plans filed away in fat planning books. They design strategies that can be executed, and execution paces everything.
Execution is a discipline of its own. It is a discipline for achieving success and gaining competitive advantage. Some individuals and organizations are better at it than others. With this issue, we visit with executives who we believe are really good at "getting things done." We asked them to share their thoughts on execution in broad terms and then to divulge their secrets for how they go about getting things done. We think you will find their comments inspiring. Who knows what you might get done after reading their remarks!
Meet our "Execution Experts"
We are pleased to introduce our "execution experts":
Marilyn Carp, president and chief executive officer, Aegon Direct Marketing Services: a subsidiary of Aegon USA. It uses direct response methods to offer life insurance products to potential clients. Headquartered in Baltimore, MD.
Bruce Greenbaum, president, UltraPro: the leading manufacturer and marketer of archival safe-storage products worldwide. Produces storage for sports and gaming collectibles, photo and photofinishing, and products to store and protect multi-media. Headquartered in Los Angeles, CA.
Paul E. Gross, chief information officer, Brown-Forman Corporation: a diversified producer and marketer of fine-quality consumer products (wines and spirits and consumer durables). Headquartered in Louisville, KY.
Ted McQuade, president and CEO, Industrial Powder Coatings, Inc.: a leader in the custom coating industry, specializing in powder coating, electro-coating, and plating for automotive and appliance applications. Headquartered in Norwalk, OH.
Why Does Execution Matter?
Ted: Without an explicit focus on execution, all you do is destroy shareholder value. Let's face it, manufacturing can be dull and repetitive. But you make the money in the day-to-day details of managing your operations. You transform raw materials into something of value. You've got to manage it. You've got to execute.
Lynnie: As head of a non-profit organization, I have to be able to execute. Part of being a good steward has to do with being able to deliver good results. Success breeds success. We are doing good work for our clients. We are delivering good results. As a result, people want to be involved in the work of the Center. There is a buzz about what we are doing at The Center for Women and Families.
Bruce: You can have the best plan in the world, but if you don't execute it, you won't get the results you need to be successful.
Paul: At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: Did I achieve what I set out to achieve?
What have you learned about execution and how to do it?
Ted: You must establish a "rhythm of accountability" as one of the first things you do in a new organization. By this I mean a sequence of daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress. It is important that the execution items be measurable and that they have a single, clearly-identified owner. People must know that they will have to stand and deliver results to the organization at pre-determined intervals. Change the rhythm of the organization and you'll change their focus.
Marilyn: If you have the right people, then you must empower them to work together as a team and take ownership. As a leader, my job is to support that team. Communication is critical to the success of execution. We have processes in place that have been refined over time to ensure that we execute with excellence.
How do you focus your people on execution?
Ted: When I'm new to a company, I'm probably perceived as a real pain in the butt and a micromanager. I get involved. I ask a lot of questions of the people who are closest to the process. I want to know "How are you going to do it? Who's going to do it? When is it going to get done?" I keep asking questions until I'm satisfied that they understand my expectations.
Marilyn: Getting the right team together is the most important thing. They must feel that they have management's support to go out and do the job. Often I will kick off the project. The team needs to understand why the work they are being asked to do is important; how it fits into the overall picture. They must know how to work together as a team; how to collaborate. They also need to feel accountable. They need a good plan and regular communication to keep everyone up to date on progress. If they fall behind or get off course, they need a plan to get back on track.
Paul: I'm a big believer in clearly defining expectations. I drill down pretty deep in conversation to ensure that my peoples' interpretations of expectations are the same as mine. Then I make sure we can measure those expectations. It puts discipline into the process.
How do you close the gap between results promised and results delivered?
Ted: You've got to involve the people closest to the process. If you've done a good job of identifying key metrics, if you have checkpoints and milestones along the way, and if you clearly identify who is responsible, then you will know if a gap exists, and you can make mid-course corrections. If you find you can't meet your goal, then at least you owe it to whomever you promised the results to keep them informed and share your recovery plan. You lose your credibility if you don't.
Bruce: First I make sure that I have the right people in the job. Are they capable of delivering results and are they motivated to deliver them? Once that is in place, it is important that progress towards achieving the plan in a timely fashion gets visibility, so that, if required, corrective action can be taken. We then share the rewards that come with successful achievement.
Paul: We use the "carrot" approach of reward and recognition. I also encourage open dialogue so that my staff isn't afraid to let me know if we need to take corrective action to get a project back on track. One of our biggest challenges is keeping the scope of projects from growing. It's hard to stay focused on a two-year project; it is just too big. Instead, we break it into manageable chunks that can be accomplished in six months or less.
Marilyn: I don't want people to spend an inordinate amount of time writing status reports, but I am a believer in the value of them. They serve a double purpose; one is to keep me informed of progress, and the other is to cause the team to reflect on what they have accomplished and where they are falling behind.
How do you link your strategy, people, and operations?
Lynnie: We work hard to make sure that our staff is aligned and focused on our goals. Our culture is one that promotes the internal expectation that our people will step up and do what needs to be done. They believe in their work. They believe in our mission.
Ted: Our leadership team provides the link between these three core processes. We all carry the same mental DNA. We are always asking ourselves: "How does this short-term action get us to our long-term goal? Do we have the right people in place to do the job?"
How to you manage your own workload? What tools do you use?
Bruce: I've got a 45-minute commute to and from work each day, and I use that time to return phone calls. My days are filled with routine meetings and unavoidable interruptions, so I often use the evenings and weekends to catch up with larger projects. (I hate to admit it, but now I even take my laptop on vacations.)
Lynnie: I've really changed my style since I started working at the Center. In the beginning, I tried to do everything. Now, I have a great team in place. I encourage them to think of themselves as the CEO of their area. I'm able to delegate a lot to them. We try to divide and conquer, not duplicate our efforts. I do make use of certain tools to manage my work. I can check my voice mail, e-mail and access my computer files from home. I use a palm pilot. I schedule work time on my calendar for large projects. I keep a to-do list. I try to return all phone calls before I leave for the evening.
Ted: When I have too much on my plate, I step back and ask myself, "What do people really want from me?" The answer is always the same: they want me to be visible; they want me to represent the company well with our board, our customers, our bankers and our constituents. My people want me to listen to them; talk to them about what's important; and give direction, insight, and feedback. This conversation I have with myself gets me back on track pretty fast.
How did you learn to execute well?
Bruce: Early in my career, I had the good fortune of working with manufacturing-veteran Nels Hoffman. Today my style of execution is very much like his. He taught me well.
Paul: Years ago I worked for a guy who served as my mentor. He was willing to take risks with me and gave me some large and significant projects to manage. He was very good at giving me feedback. He taught me not only about how to manage projects, but also about how to coach others.
Lynnie: I attribute my execution style to two sources. I worked for a time for Humana and participated in its management-training program. It is a stellar program, and much of how I operate today I learned from my experience there. Also, my parents have a really strong work ethic that they have passed down to each of their five children. I work hard, and I enjoy my job. If I won the Lotto tomorrow, I'd probably still be here.
So, in summary, here are some lessons learned for creating a culture of execution:
- Be sure that your people understand why execution matters in your organization.
- Execution is a discipline. Create execution processes that have both rhythm and rigor.
- Learn to ask tough, incisive questions that will focus people on where execution is and isn't happening.
- Remember, you can't do execution alone. While execution is a MAJOR job of the business leader, collaboration is the key. You have to
- spread execution capability to the teams and functions in your organization. It must become a core element of your organization's culture.
Let us know about your organization's execution successes and challenges. Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting Started for Getting Things Done: Two Books and One Tool
There are two books and one tool that we highly recommend for learning more about the discipline of execution.
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy (Chairman of Honeywell International) and Ram Charan (legendary adviser to senior executives and boards of directors). This book shows you how to close the gap between results promised and results delivered. The authors contend that leaders who execute well are leaders who understand how to link together people, strategy, and operations.
Getting it Done: How to Lead When You're Not in Charge, by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp. The premise of their book is that you must be able to collaborate to get the work done. They offer a no-nonsense guide to successful persuasion and influence. A simple tool that we often use with our clients is an action-plan worksheet. It allows a group to clearly state the actions that need to be done as a follow up to a work session, identify who is respon-sible, and assign a date for completion. It's amazing how being clear about next steps allows groups to improve their execution. For a sample action plan, link to http://wunderlin.com/actionplan.pdf.
Experiential Workshops Can Help You Execute Better
Another way to improve your execution style is to brush up on skills that will make you a better manager - of projects and of people. The Wunderlin Company offers three workshops designed to help you work more effectively. The first one, Facilitator Training, is a foundational workshop where participants learn to plan and facilitate meetings. The second one, Skills for the Advanced Facilitator, builds on the foundation course and is designed specifically for those interested in taking their facilitation skills to the next level. The third workshop, Coaching as a Leadership Skill, will help you become a masterful coach able to inspire, motivate, and train employees so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. The premise of all three workshops is that if you demonstrate the leadership skills necessary to stay ahead in a highly competitive and quickly changing world, you can impact the culture of your organization and move it to one that is successful because it executes well. To find out more about these three workshops and to register for them, log on to http://wunderlin.com/ workshops.htm.