Factors to Close the Execution Gap
Thomas Edison’s quote, uttered more than 100 years ago, rings true across organizations of all sizes in the year 2013. In fact, in a wobbly economy where entrepreneurial activity is on the rise, execution is even more critical for success and survival.
There was a time when strategic planning was a leader’s primary focus and concern. That is no longer the case, strategic planning is important, but as a sole focus of leadership it’s a luxury. In the start-up realm the analogy would be a founder fixated on creating the perfect business plan but finding themselves crippled when it comes to turning that plan into action. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different skils sets that leadership must possess in order to take an idea from concept to reality.
In the current business climate, a well-implemented mediocre idea is far better than a great idea that can’t get off the ground. A great idea is a starting point—execution is what differentiates a winner from a loser creating barriers to entry and long-term viability.
So, what can start-up or even growth stage companies do to support execution? Here are five thoughts based on what I’ve personally observed in more than 15 start-ups during my career.
I wish I’d written that but Liz Ryan, Career Commentator (Huffington Post) beat me to it. In an economy where so many are looking for new positions or reinventing themselves, it’s always a good time to really think about how you want to present yourself in the new economy. When you sell a product the goal is differentiation. When you sell your personal brand the objective is the same. As Liz points out, using lame, beat business jargon is not the way to go. There are far too many people out there who are saying the same thing.
A friend who is in the “Mulligan” season of her life has been looking for a way to present who she is and what she wants to do for the remainder of her career. She and I have done more than few start-ups and together have been “fire-women” trying to salvage businesses that were on the verge of self-implosion. She brought up the term “Smoking Hole”, what we would say to describe those “verge of failure” investments. So, “Smoking Hole Prevention Services” started as a joke and has morphed into a story…
When I created my brand and built the web site, it was all about my story–not my credentials or business skills. I know I’m quirky but no one ever forgets the name Punching Nun Group. I don’t want to hide that under a bunch of BS that doesn’t have meaning to me or the power of differentiation. I’m not an intellectual. I’m a fireman (ok fire-women) with a sense of humor–no apologies.
Be you, be kind, be interesting and have fun. Life is far too short…
Seriously, how could I refuse? In an April 2, 2012 article in Fast Company by Lydia Dishman, some sage advice is shared with executives in growth organizations on the merits of leadership Mafia style.
1. Build a Powerful Community
Whether it’s your friendly funeral home director or doing a favor for a new LinkedIn connection, it is true that helping your peers will benefit your business in the long run. We are all short on time but one good turn deserves another and builds a “goodwill” account that can come in handy when facing your next financing, looking for a top notch sales person or addressing management struggles. I prefer to not keep a ledger on this sort of thing but your network will be much faster to respond when you’ve been responsive to them.
2. Hold People Accountable
Showing weakness leads to assassination. Ok, that’s a bit severe but in business or life, there are moments where bravery is a requirement and the path of least resistance is a killer. A wise person told me once, hire slow and fire quickly. FTE’s are a huge investment and a weak link in any area of a growth organization is like a cancer that causes far more damage than meets the eye. I’m a big fan of ripping a band-aid off quickly, whether it’s a bad consultant or employee, don’t wait the cost is more than you can imagine. Continue reading
Rings true (as most things Seth Godin says). He compares software development to building a skyscraper (versus throwing a party). In this brave new world (compared to the 1990’s) so many product concepts are built on a software platform. SaaS solutions and the recurring revenue they generate, are the rage, and the preferred business model in a digital world.
Godin’s comments mirror my own experience having worked with a variety of software-based companies over the past decade—some did well, some not so well. The basis of success for the winners centered on the development team–and the maturity with which the team and the software were managed. Like a skillful architect the software development manager must piece together an ever-changing strategy providing investors and the company with a real plan including costs, timelines and deliverables.
Come on, we all thought he was hot—those high-heel black boots and the way he was always able to get the blue skin girl with the mini-skirt and 1960’s hairdo! Apparently James T. Kirk offered more than fashion advice as pointed out by Alex Knapp’s March 5, 2012 article in Forbes Magazine regarding Capt. Kirk’s leadership prowess James T. Kirk.
- Never Stop Learning—We are never too old to pick up something new or change the way we approach a situation.
- Have Advisors with Different World Views—maybe not a Vulcan but certainly someone with different skills or perspective. A sure sign of wisdom is surrounding yourself with people who are better at certain aspects of business than you are. It takes some self-awareness and comfort with your own strengths and weaknesses but in the end you don’t want to be with a bunch of yes men.
- Be Part of the Away Team—get your hands dirty doing the work and then the doers will respect your ability to lead. Kirk always put himself in harms way first. Employees respect your knowledge of the business and your understanding of what they contribute. We all love that show “Undercover CEO”, same concept… Continue reading
In his blog, Seth Godin writes about the Trap of Social Media Noise. Truth be told, most of what Seth says is so dead-on, I looked this one up just to see if he agreed with what I wanted to say. Fortunately, he does.
These days, most of my new clients begin our relationship wanting to know what I think about social media. Most times I feel compelled to ask, “What do you want that to achieve with social media in terms of your total marketing strategy?” The blank stare speaks volumes. Don’t get me wrong; there is a place and time for social media in any marketing effort but it in and of itself is no measure of success.
Like Seth Godin, I’m from the school of “what we say matters.” The goal of any marketing effort should be clarity, not noise. In regard to social media or any marketing effort quality must win over quantity. Social media functions as a way to put your opinion (and your reputation) on the line with an audience who can make or break your company. Generating leads but no sales with a bait and switch strategy or followers with no value are both great ways to spend money with zero bottom-line impact.
Marketing is about creating interesting and high-impact content. Social media is a way to position yourself and your organization as a leader in your industry or market niche. Continue reading
Jeff Haden has captured some hilarious truth in a recent article in “Inc” focused on things that entrepreneurs says Sh*t Entrepreneurs Say. After years of working in start-ups as an employee and a consultant I have to admit he’s nailed it. With Steven Jobs passing the business world seems pretty caught up in finding a new model for figuring out the path to the Holy Grail.
Perhaps it’s age, but I have to tell you what our folks hammered into our undeveloped brains is better advice than most of what I heard in graduate school or certainly more useful than the current crop of entrepreneurs. I’m a big fan of basic blocking and tackling.
Most of what I share with my clients isn’t something new out of the latest “6 Steps to Success” book. Don’t get me wrong, I do read and still have the capacity to learn but the path to success for any start-up is paved with hard work. There’s just no way around that. A culture that doesn’t promote working smarter doesn’t benchmark based on results and views itself as too “groovy” is going to fail.
Some of my favorite comments from Haden are the following (with my take on what they really mean):
“R & D is only for people who don’t have a clear vision.”
It’s ok to pave a new channel but research to validate that your product has the same value to your target client as it does to you is critical. Sometimes you just love your baby more than anyone else…