It’s back-to-basics in Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2002.) Bossidy is a retired business executive (General Electric, AlliedSignal/Honeywell,) and Charan is a distinguished business consultant.
Execution was the best-seller that defined the corporate zeitgeist in America after the dot-com meltdown and the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Catchphrases such as “execution,” “shaping the broad picture,” “straight talk,” and “robust action” became caricatures of how American companies got things done.
Here’s a distillation of the main ideas in Execution:
- Ideas are well and good, but how thoroughly you implement them is what “determines success in today’s business world.” Companies are hindered by the gap between what the company’s leaders want to achieve and their ability to achieve it. “The real problem is that execution just doesn’t sound very sexy. It’s the stuff a leader delegates.”
- There’s no room for fluffiness if you want to get things done. Straight talk is “live ammo.” “You need robust dialogue to surface the realities of business the kind that can leave people feeling bruised if they take it personally.”
- The leader sets the tone and leads the change. A good motto to follow is, “Truth over harmony.” Focus on “raising the right questions, debating them, and finding realistic solutions.” Avoid discourses that are “stilted, politicized, fragmented, and butt-covering.” “Candor helps wipe out the silent lies and pocket vetoes, and it prevents the stalled initiatives and rework that drain energy.”
- Informality is critical to candor. Formal and ceremonial conversations and presentations leave little room for debate. Too often, communication is scripted and predetermined. Informality encourages questions and is more likely to promote intuitive and critical thinking.
- Strategic, people, and operational processes are the building blocks for execution—and they’re interrelated. “The foundation of changing behavior is linking rewards to performance and making the linkages transparent.”
Recommendation: Skim Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2002.) Most of the book is about setting expectations, holding people accountable, and following through. There’re no instructive case studies. There’re no new magic pills. The substance is genuinely elementary, and the tone self-righteous. You don’t need a book for exhortations like “put the right person in the right job,” “know your people and your business,” “test critical assumptions,” “follow-through,” “deal with non-performers,” and “expand people’s capabilities through coaching.”