Monday, July 7, 2008

The Art of Execution – For Entrepreneurs and Others

Guy Kawasaki had some thoughts about this and I’d like to build on them.

After you raise the money, “now what”? Every entrepreneur has to answer the same question. The answer to this question is, “Now you execute.” And the next question is, “How do we execute?” It actually is the same question that faces established businesses and why we work so hard to get businesses to commit to creating a strategic business plan and writing it down.

1. Create something worth executing. You may think that you have created the greatest thing since sliced bread or if you are Al Gore, the Internet. But do some more research and make sure. Pitching, demonstrating, bootstrapping and executing are a lot easier if you've created something meaningful. Would you care to guess how many established companies are spending substantial sums and employee’s time on projects that have no market viability? So if you and your team are having a hard time executing, maybe you're working on the wrong thing.

2. Set goals. The next step is to set goals that embody these four qualities:
o Relevant. A good goal is relevant. If you're a software company, it's the number of downloads of your demo version. It isn’t being the number 2 site on Google.
o Measurable. If a goal isn't measurable, it's unlikely you'll achieve it. For a startup, quantifiable goals are things like shipping deadlines, downloads, sales volume, whatever. For established companies with new projects add revenue timing and customer acceptance levels. Keep the number of measurables meaningful since too many dictates failure. Three to five goals are plenty.
o Achievable. Take your “conservative” forecast for these goals and multiply them by 10% then use that as your goal. There is nothing more demoralizing than setting a “conservative” goal and falling short; instead take 10% of your forecast, make this your goal, and blow it away. You might think that such a practice will lead to under-achieving organizations because they aren't being challenged. Not so, since it cause you to get the traction and success you need to build upon..
o Viabile. Ensure that your goal encompasses all the factors that will make your organization viable. Postpone, or at least de-emphasize, touchy feely goals. They may make the founders feel good. They may even make the employees feel good. But companies that execute on measurable goals are happy. Those that don't, aren't. As soon as you start missing the measurable goals, all the touchy feely stuff goes out the window.

3. Establish a culture of execution. Execution is not an event--a onetime push towards achieving goals. Rather it is a way of life, and this way of life (execution versus non-execution) is set in the early days of the organization. The best way to establish this culture is for the founders, particularly the CEO, to set an example of filling goals, responding to customers, and heeding and measuring employees.

4. Communicate the goals. Many executive teams set goals, but they don't communicate these goals to the organization. For goals to be effective, they have to be communicated to every employee in the organization. Employees should wake up in the morning thinking about how they're going to help achieve these goals and in fact take “ownership” for their role.

5. Establish a single point of responsibility. If you ask your employees who is responsible for a goal, and no one can answer you in ten seconds, then it means that there's not enough accountability. If more than one person is responsible for the achievement of a goal, then no one is responsible. Good employees accept responsibility. Great employees seek responsibility.

6. Measure progress on a weekly basis. The goals that people achieve are the goals that are measured. If you don't measure progress towards a goal, you might as well not set it. This is also another reason for setting only three to five goals: people can't focus on more than five, and measuring many more that five is difficult too. The optimal time period to review progress is weekly: monthly is too little pressure; daily is too anal. Then follow through until the goal is met or becomes less relevant and is replaced.

7. Reward the achievers. Rewarding the people who achieve their goals has two positive effects. First, the achievers feel rewarded and become even more excited about doing their job. Second, the under- and non-achievers know that the company takes execution very seriously. The form of the reward can be money, stock options, time off--whatever works to serve notice to everyone that “this person delivered.”

Clearly, having the plan and having the resources are the right way to start. BUT!!!! It is critical that you execute and execute brilliantly. If this part of business isn’t your strong suit, get some help from people who have this strength. Focus your efforts on what you do brilliantly and the company can prosper.


John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

View John Maver's profile on LinkedIn

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