Mastering Execution: The Key Discipline for Organisational Success

You have probably heard time and time again how important execution is when it comes to effectively running a business. It is more than just the implementation of strategies; it is deeply intertwined with an organisation’s goals and culture, and demands active engagement from the leadership team. In big companies and small ones, it is the critical discipline for success.

In Larry Bossidy’s book, “Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” the concept of execution is portrayed not merely as a set of tactics but as a fundamental discipline and system essential for success. Bossidy highlights that execution encompasses specific behaviuors and techniques crucial for gaining a competitive edge, making it a discipline in its own right.

To understand execution, you have to keep three key points in mind:

  1. Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy.
  2. Execution is the major job of the business leader.
  3. Execution must be a core element of an organisation’s culture.

Execution is a Discipline

Often misconstrued as mere tactics, execution is the systematic process of rigorously addressing ‘hows and whats’, driving accountability, and synchronizing operations with strategic objectives. 

It involves assessing the business environment, evaluating organisational capabilities, and aligning strategies with operational realities.In its most fundamental sense, execution is a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it.

The heart of execution lies in the three core processes: the people process, the strategy process, and the operations process. Every business uses these processes in one form or the other. But more often than not they stand apart from one another like silos.  

Typically, leadership teams have an annual strategic meeting to review these core processes. These meetings are often quite passive, with few interactions, low engagement and debates. As a result, they leave with no commitment to the action plan. This is a formula for failure.  

You need robust dialogue to surface the realities of the business, transparency and accountability for results. You need follow-through to ensure the plans are on track, decide who will do what, and how will they be measured and held accountable?  

Execution is the Job of the Business Leader

Leaders must spearhead execution in a business. The main requirement is that you as a leader have to be deeply and passionately engaged in your organisation, and honest about its realities with others and yourself.

Leaders are responsible for driving the three core processes: picking other leaders, setting the strategic direction, and conducting operations.  

Leading for execution is not about micromanaging, or being “hands-on,” or disempowering people. Rather, it’s about active involvement – doing the things leaders should be doing in the first place.  

Execution Has to Be in the Culture

Just as the leader has to be personally involved in execution, so must everyone else in the organisation understand and practice the discipline. It’s about creating an environment where execution is valued, understood, and consistently pursued by everyone across all levels of the organisation.

Engraining execution in the culture of a business requires a multifaceted approach. Clear goal setting and communication, led by example from leadership, lay the foundation, while providing training and development opportunities builds employees’ execution skills. Establishing streamlined processes and rewarding excellence further solidify this culture. Encouraging risk-taking, promoting accountability, and emphasizing continuous improvement ensure that execution remains a central focus. Committing to this will allow businesses to cultivate a culture where execution is not just a priority, but a way of operating that drives sustained success.

Overcoming Challenges in Execution

Despite its importance, execution often remains neglected. Bossidy identifies several reasons for this neglect, including a lack of understanding of execution as a discipline and the absence of a concerted effort to embed it within organisational practices.

To overcome these challenges, organisations must:

  • Recognise execution as a distinct discipline.
  • Encourage accountability and continuous improvement.
  • Ensure active leadership involvement in execution processes.
  • Prioritise robust dialogue and follow-through to drive results.

Execution is not merely about getting things done; it’s about doing them effectively and consistently, making sure the right people, individually and collectively, focus on the right details at the right time.

If I were to summarize the above into a phrase – it would be ‘Everybody, Everyday, Engaged’ and in Lean this is called ‘e3’ and that incorporates the three core processes: the people process, the strategy process, and the operations process.

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