Riddell: Focusing on execution
April 21, 2015
In his iconic novel, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy describes a scene of German army officers consoling each other following a defeat. Their shared sentiment was that they lost the war, but their plan was the right one. What they actually had was a failure to execute.
Similar to a football coach with a great game plan, the players still have to block, tackle, pass, and catch. So many well intentioned business managers and owners spend a great deal of valuable and productive time coming up with their great plan only to see their best intentions fail. The folks that make up the organization fail to properly execute.
Execution is another word for action. Once the plans are in place, specific energies applied to the specific intentions of the plan are the keys for success. At the end of the day, successful businesses are not academic pursuits, they are organized efforts that find and keep customers and thereby provide wealth and income to those associated with it. This wealth and income are the direct result of successful actions, AKA execution.
Before looking at some specific recommendations for execution, it is usually helpful for small business owners and managers to supplement their planning with what many large businesses and consultants refer to as a situational analysis. This is simply a thumbnail sketch of what the particular business' real world looks like. This real world looks at the external environment as well as the internal capabilities.
“The minute you employ one other person other than yourself, you are now depending on someone else to perform a function and your personal success is now dependent in part on the performance of that individual. That person must properly execute for you to enjoy success.”
A great tool for instilling some clarity in the insane world of competitive business is a properly used SWOT analysis. The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and is intended to be a description of the competitive condition. Strengths and Weaknesses refer to the internal capacity of the organization. Opportunities and Threats are always external to the organization. This inventory listing is simply a collection of descriptors that would allow a third party to see how you see yourself in the word in which you compete. Ideally you would like to have your strengths match up with the opportunities and your weaknesses not subject to the threats, but the most important part of the tool is brutal and clear honesty.
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Unfortunately many uniformed or misguided users of this tool fail to maintain the mental discipline required for the tool to be effective. They juxtapose external opportunities with internal strengths or perform a similar miscategorizing of weaknesses and threats. The unfortunate result is an erroneous picture of the business's real world and capabilities, which basically renders any success in planning and execution to the realm of blind luck.
The next few columns are going to spend a considerable amount of time on suggestions for improving execution but suffice it to say that our starting point is always going to be with people. The minute you employ one other person other than yourself, you are now depending on someone else to perform a function and your personal success is now dependent in part on the performance of that individual. That person must properly execute for you to enjoy success.
Effective execution has to be the aspiration of any successful manager. As with any worthwhile goal, there are a variety of needed personal attributes for success, but focus and the ability to maintain it are critical for most small businesses owners and managers. The key is you just have to be sure you're focused on the right stuff. We'll talk more about this right stuff in our next column.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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