Founders are often big picture people. They are focused on the reason they started their business in the first place. Their passion is to have their businesses reach full potential and to make a difference in the world. That’s great. We need even more of those visionary leaders.
Without execution even the best idea is useless
The first three success factors for startups were covered in previous blogs: a great idea, the right context and an outstanding team. But without excellence in execution, the fourth success factor, your team remains incomplete, even the best idea will be useless and your business won’t go very far. Founders are often less enthusiastic about the nitty-gritty part of implementation. Even more important is that they recognize its importance. I believe the key elements of successful execution are an unwavering commitment to learning paired with a laser-focus on what really matters and the right sense of urgency.
If you’re not measuring it, you’re only practicing
Outstanding executors understand one thing above all: the importance of learning. And learning needs measurement. Measure, learn, improve, measure again. Successful learnings are rolled out and scaled up. But the key is to keep measuring. Keep learning. Keep improving. Keep moving to the next learning cycle. And the better an executor is, the faster those cycles become. Measuring is their second nature. And so is learning. On a daily basis. As the popular adage puts it: “if you’re not measuring it, you’re only practicing“. And as a great executor, you most definitely want to be in competition-mode.
Making it happen vs. making the right things happen
You may think of strategy as deciding what to do. Hence, you could think of execution as actually doing it. Making it happen. That is a good theoretical framework. But the reality is blurred. You don’t have the luxury to collect all the executional insights and factor them in during your strategic reviews. Deciding what to do very often needs to happen in the here and now. And there is only one reliable principle to guide these decision: customer centricity. Outstanding executors have an almost religious dedication to adding value to their customers and understanding their needs. Oh, and how is that dedication enabled? By measuring, measuring, measuring!
Execution is not only about getting things done. It is about doing what really matters. Remember Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of once hyped and then epically failed electric car company Better Place? He excellently executed the opening of a multi-million dollar visitor center, the establishment of a policy- influencing department, a great number of PR events and a fancy ERP system. While at the same time building … well, not a single car. As a matter of fact, by the time he filed for bankruptcy and burned through nearly 1 billion dollars (!) of funding, the company has sold the meagre amount of 1,400 cars. In six years! This may very well be an extreme example. But it illustrates a fundamentally important point. Excellent executors focus on what matters. Nothing else.
Soon is good. Now is better… mostly!
Of course you’d prefer to reach a goal sooner rather than later. But often there’s only a fine line between healthy tension and rushed chaos. Great executors understand when to pause and examine. When to rest and reflect. And when in turn to ask their team to go the extra mile. The same way top athletes understand the importance of “regeneration” as part of delivering peak performance, outstanding executors understand to artfully balance the pace of work. They’re able to instil a healthy, ubiquitous sense of urgency into the organization that very often makes all the difference in being that one step ahead of competition.
As a final thought on the importance of execution, let me ask you this: If you’d have to choose between an average idea perfectly executed and an outstanding idea poorly executed – what would it be? The choice should be easy. Like in a multiplication, if one term is zero, the result will be zero. Poor execution will inevitably lead to failure. Excellent execution on the other hand multiplies the other term and opens the door to success.
P.S.: This post is the fourth in a series of six blogs covering the key ingredients for a successful business. Stay tuned for the others to follow over the coming weeks! You can find links to the published blogs below: