EXECUTION : The Discipline of Getting Things Done: Book Review; V3 Issue 3

 Title: EXECUTION : The Discipline of Getting Things Done
 Author: Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan with Charles Burck
 Publication details: 2002, Random House
 Number of pages: 269 pages


Most business strategies fail because they were not executed well. But what does it really take to execute well? Let Larry Bossidy, one of the world's most acclaimed CEOs (of Allied Signal and Honeywell International) and Ram Charan, a legendary advisor to senior executives and boards of directors, tell you. In their book Execution they argue that a leader’s most important job is execution. Execution closes the gap between results promised and delivered. They criticize the overly hands-off approach of leaders who see execution as the tactical side of the business, something they can delegate, while they focus on the bigger picture. Without advocating micro-management, they promote senior management’s focus on developing an execution culture.

The book demonstrates how organizations such as GE, Wal-Mart and Colgate-Palmolive have been able to reach and even exceed goals by successfully integrating three core processes of people, strategy and operations. Bossidy asserts that the job of selecting and appraising people, particularly top executives, should never be delegated. At Honeywell, as the CEO Bossidy personally made calls to check references for key hires and approved important promotions and transfers. A great strategy comes together only after robust debate among key executives and not after just a presentation of PowerPoint slides. It should be in sync with the realities of the marketplace, the economy and the competition reflecting both the company's organizational capabilities and describing how the company can expand its capabilities to meet challenges. A good operating plan breaks down long-term goals into short-term targets. These should reflect not what happened last year, but what realistically can be achieved in the future. Again, a discussion on how and even whether you can get the desired results, is a must.

The authors have a view on many aspects of a business. For instance they feel that people processes should be forward looking, evaluating people against the requirements of the future rather than looking at today’s requirements. Or that corporate level strategy being the vehicle for allocating resources among business units, should not just be a sum of those parts. The book contains a lot of wisdom like “When the leader discusses issues in a group setting everybody learns.” and “Many sizable businesses spend weeks or months preparing their budgets. This is unnecessary, and a great waste of time.”

Through case studies, checklists, detailed and interesting examples, Bossidy and Charan suggest ways organizations can improve the way they execute. There is case study to highlight the problem of strategies that are intellectually appealing but which the organization is incapable of implementing. When AT&T acquired several cable companies their strategy made sense but the management did not have the ability to run them. The ‘Leader's Essential Behaviours’ check list contain behaviours such as ‘Know Your People and Your Business, Insist on Realism, Set Clear Goals and Priorities, Follow Through, Reward the Doers, Expand People's Capabilities through Coaching and Know Yourself’. Conducting a Strategy Review and Leadership and Retention Assessments are demonstrated with detailed live examples. An interesting example of people process is the GE’s ‘diamonds in the rough’ initiative. People of substance who do not have the polish of their peers and might get overlooked or are struggling in current jobs say because of a bad boss, are moved to better environments where they can grow.

While many stories are of senior management, the suggestions work just as well for all levels of management especially if you want to be an effective leader. For example the suggestions for dealing with non performers, challenging the assumptions of a plan and conducting an effective meeting are of value to managers at all levels. Developing the discipline of execution isn't made out to be simple and you will need to read this book many times to capture the multiple layers of messages. Write in the margins, underline, and annotate to internalize the lessons better. These lessons will certainly make you better at your job.