Excellence in Execution: Accountability is Everything

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If you can’t get the basics down and stick to them, your organization will have a difficult time mastering true operational excellence and your bottom line will suffer as a result.

Some of the most important questions a CEO needs to ask him/herself is: How do you get your organization to be really, really good at execution? What would it mean to have an organization that borders on mastery of execution, and how do you get there?

Execution is one of the primary areas in which companies flounder. They build their strategies around big ideas but fail to execute in the real world – or at least fail to execute in a manner that achieves the results they desire. The biggest obstacle to improving execution significantly and sustainably is the failure to hold our people accountable for results. In my experience, about 90% of people in organizations are not trained in execution management or accountability, at least not beyond the kindergarten or first-grade level. This simple and completely avoidable failure then morphs into an entire culture of resistance to execution capability.

We don’t like to admit that our people don’t know how to execute successfully. Acknowledging and accepting this critical weakness is the first step in fixing it. Second, you must make accountability the new culture at every level of your organization. Be aware that when you institutionalize accountability, they will resist; they’d rather not be accountable for anything and get back to a “normal” life – one in which they don’t have to deliver.

Creating a new culture of execution delivery is sometimes easier said than done. Resistance can be fierce. In getting started, here are some key tips that executives and managers will find helpful:

  1. Execution capability must begin at the top. Senior leaders have to learn to be the example, to do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, in little things and big things alike.
  2. Hold people who report to you accountable. That is, when you ask them to do something, be clear about what it is you are asking and have a specific timeframe when you expect them to complete it. And then, follow up. If they fulfilled the expectation, acknowledge that (e.g., say “thank you”); if they didn’t, acknowledge that too, and if appropriate, ask them when they will get it done, and by when. Again, follow up. Follow up lets them know you mean it.
  3. Don’t try to manage execution by getting angry. Someone either did what they said or they didn’t. At some point, you probably ought to tell them that if they can’t be counted on, you will need to replace them. You don’t have to be angry to say that. You are just telling them the truth. Think “gentle accountability.”
  4. In every meeting, keep a list of the promises made: who, what, and by when. In every subsequent meeting, go over the list. Don’t spend much time on going over the list: is it done or isn’t it? If not, what’s the new promise date?
  5. Stay the course. It will pay off. If you stop, it will only be more difficult the next time.

While these tips are only the beginning, they also serve as key failure modes when execution capability goes down the drain. They are the basics to execution management – the essentials for success. If you can’t get the basics down and stick to them, your organization will have a difficult time mastering true operational excellence and your bottom line will suffer as a result.

 

Additional Reading

Staffing for Operational Excellence
The Founder’s Mentality: Bringing Back Growth

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