(Implementation Is Everything)
The three-letter extension that follows a period in PC file names indicates the type of information contained. .exe, short for executable, means that double clicking on the file will launch a program or perform an operation. Many companies are files chock full of good ideas; the problem is that no .exe follows.
Several years ago I appeared on a program with Peter Schutz, former CEO of Porsche. He opened his presentation with an idea that was like a hot cup of java on a cold winter morning. Schutz said, and I paraphrase, “It takes two things to be a success in any business in the world today: the ability to make good decisions and the ability to implement those decisions. And I would argue that a bad idea well implemented is better than a brilliant idea not well implemented.”
I have been espousing the same concept, only using different words. My take: the difference between excellence and mediocrity is the difference between common knowledge and consistent application. The winners are not those who know; the winners are those who do.
Why is execution so difficult for the average organization? This may well be one of the great mysteries of organizational life. We all know someone who can analyze with incredible insight a football team’s game plan, strengths and weaknesses, but who has never played nor coached the game. For armchair quarterbacks, the realm of the intellect is an easier playing field than reality.
Recently I decided to start shopping for better phone service for my business. I asked my assistant to gather information and quotes from various providers. She called AT&T six times before she could persuade someone to provide her a quote. This is the same company that has spent millions on advertising and that routinely disrupts our days and evenings with unsolicited calls to switch service. But when it came to strategic execution, AT&T dropped the ball.
And that is the kind of execution that counts: basic execution. Few could argue that their days aren’t packed full of “execution;” they are busy doing many things. But even execution isn’t enough if it isn’t strategic. The well-worn adage is still valid: “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”
There is something even better, and that is what I call strategic execution: doing the right things right.
Advertising and marketing are the right things to do, but only when done in concert with other critical tasks (like responding to customers who have indicated an interest in doing business with you). When someone with money raises their hand, by all means call on them!
AT&T isn’t alone. In the past several months, I have compiled a list of so-called professionals who flunk strategic execution consistently: two printers that were too busy to provide estimates, a realtor who wouldn’t return phone calls, a customer relations manager for an airline who promised follow-up but didn’t deliver, a used-truck sales manager who didn’t call back (“Your employer and I use the same accountant. He suggested I contact you about buying a sport utility vehicle for my wife. Here’s what we’re looking for and how much we’re willing to spend….”), a luxury import dealer who dropped the ball (the parent company is a client; they had the dealer contact me. I initiated an ongoing dialogue, very specific, about what I wanted. Evidently helping me find the right vehicle was too taxing. The dealer quit following up)….the list goes on, but I’ve made my point.
The exception has been the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia. I won’t elaborate the details: let’s just say that my experience staying at their property was far short of my expectations. Based on my previous stays I was astounded at the lack of service execution. I felt it my duty to share my disappointment with the general manager prior to my checkout after a two-day stay. When I finished outlining my dissatisfactions, a sincere apology was forthcoming. No excuses. But what came next was more astounding. “Mr. Sanborn, I regret that I can’t turn back the clock and prevent the problems that occurred from happening. Your room balance, of course, shows zero.” I was puzzled — what did he mean? “Sir, I would not expect you to pay for a stay at our property that was short of your expectations.” My bill had been in excess of $400. “And the next time you are in Philadelphia, I would like to invite you to stay with us again as our guest. You’ll be receiving a letter from me soon.” And I did. And the general manager offered to provide my next stay with his compliments. Kudos to the Philadelphia Ritz Carlton!
There is nothing more powerful than knowing the right thing to do, and then doing it right, as demonstrated by the GM at the Ritz. No individual or company can expect to be perfect 100% of the time, even with the best execution strategy. But knowing how to recover through strategic execution is nearly as important as knowing how to use it to create results.
To succeed consistently, every worthwhile idea in your business and life must be followed by .exe.