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[dropcap style=”style3″]S[/dropcap]teve Jobs: now there’s a guy who knew a thing or two about executing strategy. In a 1995 interview with Robert Cringley, Jobs was asked about Apple’s then woes and the “vision” of his ouster, John Sculley. Jobs said, “It wasn’t an issue of vision, it was an issue of execution. [Sculley’s] vision was that he should remain the CEO of the company, and anything that would help him do that would be acceptable.” That was in 1995 when Apple was in big trouble and we all know what happened when Jobs famously returned to the company two years later.

So, if you haven’t guessed, this month’s blog is all about #4 on my list of “10 Deadly Sins of Leadership:” the importance of execution. ( if you already haven’t downloaded the white paper you can find it here.)

What is execution?

In very simple terms it’s the discipline of developing and sustaining a system for getting things done. “Getting things done” being the operative words. Being good at execution doesn’t mean being a micromanager. While micromanaging can be compared to watching every nail being banged in, executing properly can be compared to ensuring and knowing that the building is constructed well, on time and on budget.

Steve Jobs was very good at executing, but not all managers are. Many CEOs believe that developing strategy is their responsibility, while subordinates handle the execution part. But that’s ill advised, to say the least. Effective strategy execution involves everyone in the company, requires the integration of key activities and should have an effective feedback system.

Many CEOs believe that developing strategy is their responsibility, while subordinates handle the execution part. But that’s ill advised, to say the least.

The Execution Premium by Robert Kaplan and David P. Norton (2008) states: “We conducted a survey in 1996 about the state of strategy execution. We learned that most organisations did not have formal systems to help them execute their strategies. In the great majority of surveyed companies, fewer than 10% of employees reported that they understood their company’s strategy. Clearly, employees who do not understand the strategy cannot link their daily activities to its successful execution.”

In other words, an “execution gap” is fairly common.

Six characteristics of execution-oriented companies

Larry Bossidy is the former CEO of Honeywell and no slouch when it comes to executing strategy. He cites six common characteristics of high execution companies.

  1. They have leaders who know their business and know their people. They know their business to the extent that they can take a position on matters that come before them. They might give way to another position, but nonetheless, they can weigh in because they have knowledge of what they are involved in.
  2. They constantly embrace realism. How many companies do you know that are chasing ideas that have no chance of success and are wasting both money and people’s time in that pursuit? They don’t look at the environment in which they are going to incorporate this idea and make sure that it can accept it, absorb it and be successful with it. That is just as important as the idea itself.
  3. They set clear goals — and not too many of them. Everybody in the organization knows what it is they are trying to accomplish. The clearer the goals, the more accountability, responsiveness and success.
  4. They reward the doers. In other words, they differentiate on salaries and on bonuses and on other perquisites because that is the secret ingredient of keeping great people.
  5. They coach their people. It is a responsibility of leadership to be coaching people who can someday replace you.
  6. Finally, they know themselves. The higher you go, the less likely it will be for someone to come in and give you a candid appraisal. So, you have got to be ever more vigilant on the things you do well and the things you can do better. Being an execution-oriented company is exciting, dynamic and difficult. But you can be sure it will put you in the winner’s circle.

At the end of the day, whether you’re the CEO of Apple, Honeywell or a new coffee shop, in order to be successful, you and your company must be good at executing strategy.

Thanks for reading,


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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734