Here at Results we meet many ambitious, open minded leaders who run good companies, but feel that there is a lot of untapped potential.  And, more often than not, they realize that potential has less to do with strategy and more to do with execution.  Helping organizations become disciplined in execution is why we exist. 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a long-time faculty member at the Harvard Business School, and prolific author specializing in strategy, innovation, and leadership.  In a recent article about smart leadership practices, she states,

“We found the perfect strategy” ranks with “And they lived happily ever after” as a perpetual myth. A strategy is never excellent in and of itself; it is shaped, enhanced, or limited by implementation. Top leaders can provide the framework and tools for a team, but the game is won on the playing field. When a strategy looks brilliant, it’s because of the quality of execution. A dumb idea is the one you fumble in the field by missing critical details, like how customers would react or what competitors might change while you’re still picking up the ball. 

Increasingly the business leaders we work with have been concerned about innovation and disruption in their industries.  They’ve all heard the stories of Kodak, Nokia or Blockbuster who fell from grace because they did not see (or ignored) an impending technology disruption.  They want to build innovative organizations that can be nimble and take advantage of change. 

But until an organization can master execution, there is little point in pursuing innovative ideas.  The ability to experiment, gather market feedback, create Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), and, as Jim Collins states, “fire bullets” requires as much execution discipline, if not more, than operating the “business as usual” aspects of any company. 

Salim Ismail is the Founding Executive Director of Singularity University, one of the world’s leading educators for leaders in the areas of innovation and disruption.  In his book Exponential Organizations, he states that, “Entrepreneurial success rarely comes from the idea.  Instead, it comes from the founding team’s never-say-die attitude and relentless execution”. 

So, our advice to business leaders is simply this.  The first milestone on the path to higher performance is flawless execution.  Ensure that your existing people can implement the current business. Then, and only then, begin to build the skills and capabilities around innovation.  This is the path to true excellence. 

Have you seen situations where innovation has occurred before execution has been mastered? 

Article by Tim O’Connor