Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (Anglais) Broché – 5 septembre 2002
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Praise for Execution:
'A great practitioner and an insightful theorist join forces to write a compelling business story of "how to get it done"' Jack Welch" (Jack Welch)
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It's very, very dry going, and at the end one wonders what, if anything the authors really had to say.
It sounds on the surface like cutting edge management practice. For instance Bossidy and Charan introduce the concept of "the social software of execution" as a key element for creating the framework for cultural change in the organization. They go on to elaborate, "A key component of software is what we call Social Operating Mechanisms". At this point I was on the edge of my chair, ready to absorb what was being teed up as an idea of potentially transformational impact. So what are Social Operating Mechanisms? The authors go on to explain, "These are formal or informal meetings, presentations, even memos or e-mail exchanges - anywhere that dialogue takes place".
Wow - this is really deep stuff...
One wonders why the authors don't simply refer to communication rather than Social Operating Mechanisms. And, as a separate matter, the lack of literacy is surprising. Since when, for example, are memos and e-mail exchanges places?
Stripped of all of this, what the authors have to say is simple common sense that can be summarized as follows:
* Successful companies have the important ability to get things done (or execute).
* Good leadership (knowing people, setting clear goals, following through, etc.) is a prerequisite of execution.
* Reward systems, communications, and feedback processes need to foster action and provide incentives for getting things done.
* Some people are more capable than others are to get things done. These are the people that should be put in positions of authority in the organization.
* Strategic plans need to reflect the real world and link to operational plans. They also need to be tested for feasibility in the context of the organization's capabilities.
None of this is rocket science, that is until one begins to cloak it in management techno speak such as that described above.
And one more thing. The editor should have had a "robust conversation" with the authors about their overuse of the word "robust". It's really annoying.
Building a performance culture is never as easy as it sounds. Looking back a few years, try to recall a few of those companies with great media attention and grand strategic visions. Many of them failed. And many of them will fail again and again, because the heroes are strategic visionaries that never bothered to deal with the issue of execution; continually and personally making sure that things were actually done. You know, when all is said and done, usually more is said than done...
If you found this book fascinating, you'll probably have some of the execution traits hidden in your personality preferences. If you want to check it out, you might visit some of free Internet sites for a test (e.g. keirsey.com). For a business, I believe it's paramount to make sure that you have a well-balanced team on all levels in the hierarchy. This also includes having enough executives with execution traits. Advice: Don't assume you have it; test it!
Conclusively, this is a great book. I liked it so much that I even also bought the audio version! The reason for the audio version is that these execution ideas simply are needed to be absorbed over several readings (or listenings). Otherwise, you won't be able to start changing your behavior (which you can change, unlike your innate preferences). While commuting, I often turn the CDs on and find it inspiring to forget about traffic jams and just getting the views of Charan and Bossidy in their own voices. However, I do agree that the book easily could have been shorter.
MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business
Execution's title confused me. Hopefully, you won't have that problem. I thought Execution would be all about how to take a strategy and operating plan and implement them well. Instead, Part III makes it clear that Execution is about meeting overall financial objectives through being an effective organization in setting strategies and operating plans to serve customers well while building an organization that can implement the plans for outperforming competitors. Part I, by contrast, makes it sound like Execution is only about implementation, noting that almost all organizations have the same strategies (or can quickly get them from consultants), access the same top talent and can easily acquire and employ competitively effective innovation.
I also thought Execution would apply to all business people. Instead, the context for most of the AlliedSignal (Honeywell International's name when Mr. Bossidy became CEO there the first time) and General Electric examples which dominate the book is that of the CEO or group executive to whom divisions report in a large conglomerate. In this sense, Execution is like reading the latter chapters of Mr. Welch's book, Jack.
The main difference between Jack and Execution is that Execution tries to build a framework for the book's concepts while sharing examples (mostly of failure) from other organizations. Mr. Charan's sections of the book mostly focus on that positioning. Mr. Bossidy mostly tells about his own experiences at AlliedSignal and Honeywell. Mr. Bossidy, of course, worked with Mr. Welch at General Electric for many years. Mr. Bossidy reports that you could take execution for granted at GE, but that it was lacking at AlliedSignal when he arrived. The two coauthors alternate in providing long monologues on the chapter topics and subtopics.
Three aspects of Execution are valuable to almost any business leader: how to hold a strategy review (chapter 8), building an organization (chapter 5) and the "Dear Jane" letter to a new leader (conclusion).
For those who would like to become CEOs and heads of divisions of large, disparate organizations, Mr. Bossidy's many anecdotes from his experiences at Honeywell International about how to do the leader's job will provide a valuable model that can be used repeatedly. In many such organizations, there are no good leadership examples and this book can help fill the gap.
Here's the book's structure:
Part I: Why Execution Is Needed
Chapter 1. The Gap Nobody Knows
Chapter 2. The Execution Difference
Part II: The Building Blocks of Execution
Chapter 3. Building Block One: The Leader's Seven Essential Behaviors
Chapter 4. Building Block Two: Creating the Framework for Cultural Change
Chapter 5. Building Block Three: The Job No Leader Should Delegate -- Having the Right People in the Right Place
Part III: The Three Core Processes of Execution
Chapter 6. The People Process: Making the Link with Strategy and Operations
Chapter 7. The Strategy Process: Making the Link with People and Operations
Chapter 8. How to Conduct a Strategy Review
Chapter 9. The Operations Process: Making the Link with Strategy and People
Conclusion: Letter to a New Leader
Execution addresses these problems. First, many company and division heads have little knowledge about the businesses or the most important functions and processes needed to prosper. Boards, for example, often bring in a brilliant person who has performed as a "role player" elsewhere, and they cannot scale up into the CEO job. When a company has had poor leadership, its processes and organization also become weak and it's hard to get anything done. There are several poignant examples including Richard Thoman at Xerox and Richard McGinn at Lucent Technologies. It's hard to fix that problem. It took years at AlliedSignal and can be quickly lost (which happened in the two years after he retired the first time). That's why Mr. Bossidy had to come back to restore execution (as he means it) at Honeywell International. Lacking these perspectives, the business system is misdirected (see The Fifth Discipline).
Second, many leaders make bad assumptions about their circumstances. Acting on those assumptions makes matters worse.
Third, companies plan to pursue strategies for which they lack the processes and organizations to implement. The strategies need to match the ability to execute.
As a solution, you as leader must:
"--Know your people and your business
--Insist on realism
--Set clear goals and priorities
--Reward the doers
--Expand people's capabilities
I was uncomfortable with many of the examples. The unending praise of Dick Brown at EDS didn't seem to make any sense knowing that EDS's stock melted down and he was asked to leave. He was in big trouble when Execution was written, having encouraged his people to grow by taking on large unprofitable new accounts. It seems like he might have been executing the wrong strategy, one that couldn't be executed. Most of the "failure" examples are anonymous which makes them less credible and less compelling. Finally, Dell is heralded for executing very well (which it certainly does). However, in describing how the company has evolved its business model to outperform competitors, Execution fails to notice that its business model innovation has been essential to success. No competitor has this business model. Execution's assumption that everyone can have the same strategy ignores research that shows that business model innovation creates unique strategies and superior execution compared to making the old business model and strategy more efficient.
Unless you are shooting to be CEO of GE or Honeywell International, I suspect that you would do better to read Good to Great for getting ideas related to improving effectiveness.
After you finish this book, ask yourself what one thing you could improve would make the most difference in your organization's performance over the next week, month, quarter, year and three years.
In the first chapter, the authors identify what they call "the gap nobody knows." That is somewhat hyperbolic. Obviously Bossidy and Charan are aware of it as are, presumably, countless other decision-makers in various companies which sustain profitability while attracting and then retaining "the best and the brightest" people, often from competitor companies. In any event, the authors correctly stress the importance of eliminating the gap between recognizing what must be done and getting it done. The authors focus on three former CEOs of major corporations, each of whom they hold in high regard: Richard A. McGinn (Lucent Technologies) G. Richard Thoman (Xerox), and C. Michael Armstrong (AT&T). However, McGinn was "clearly out of touch" with day-to-day operations during his last year as CEO. For whatever reasons, Thoman lacked two essential "building blocks": the right people in key positions on his management team, and, appropriate core processes by which to implement his strategy, one which the authors view as being sound. As for Armstrong, the ambitious growth strategy he pursued was "disconnected from both external and internal realities" such as the regulatory climate at that time and the AT&T culture which was resistant to the major changes which Armstrong's strategy required. These three examples illustrate that even those with exceptional intelligence, energy, and character can fail to achieve their worthy objectives. The authors acknowledge that "Shaping the broad picture into a set of executable actions is analytical, and it's a huge intellectual, and emotional challenge." Some organizations and their leaders succeed. This book explains how. Most organizations and their leaders do not. This book explains why.
Some readers of this review may incorrectly infer from my comments thus far that this book was written primarily for and about senior-level corporate executives. For that reason, I reiterate that all of the observations, evaluations, and suggestions provided in this book are directly relevant to almost anyone in any organization (regardless of size or nature) who is expected to "get things done," whatever those "things" may be. I agree completely with Noel Tichy (author of The Leadership Engine) that every organization needs aggressive and productive initiative at all levels.
Including the word "discipline" in this book's title was intentional and is appropriate. Obviously, those who are decisive are not always successful. (What I call the "Fire! Ready! Aim! Syndrome" is far too common, especially among less-experienced but eager and ambitious executives.) The most effective decision-making process is one based on sufficient and relevant information which has been rigorously analyzed. (Thus evaluated, information becomes intelligence.) Relevant and (especially) painful realities are taken into full account. All appropriate options are identified and prioritized. When a major crisis occurs which requires an immediate response, the decision-maker(s) involved must also have courage. Discipline is essential throughout this entire process, a discipline which includes what Daniel Goleman characterizes as "emotional intelligence" or what Ernest Hemingway characterizes as "grace under duress."
As indicated previously, I think this book will be of great value to any decision-maker (regardless of title or status) in any organization (regardless of size or nature) because the authors focus relentlessly on HOW some decision-makers get results and WHY most others don't. I recommend this book to individual executives, of course, but also to those involved in management training programs which involve others. (It would be terrific for developing "fast trackers."). Also, if and when appropriate, this book in combination with Michael Hammer's The Agenda would be an excellent "homework assignment" to be completed prior to an executive retreat or (as some prefer) advance. Moreover, I think anyone in the management consulting business should also read it. If ever there was a time when clients expect those such as I to help them "get things done," is it now.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Hammer's book as well as David Maister's Practice What You Preach, Jim O'Toole's Leading Change and The Executive's Compass, and Kaplan and Norton's The Strategy-Focused Organization.
Now I will tell you that I learned from Larry Bossidy's comments in the book. I actually sought out his comments as the book went on. Why? Well, each and every section that he contributed was no nonsense, practical advice. It appeared to me that his comments were straight from his thoughts, as if he were speaking. Spontaneous and candid. I made a list of take-away actions that I wanted to check myself on or apply in the future.
The basic principles of the book are simple: identify the best people, give them clear objectives, challenge them to improve and check up on them frequently. It sounds too simple...but the simple things that Bossidy mentions are the important aspects of the book. Listening. Writing follow-up letters outlining the expectations of the leaders previous day interactions with the boss. Talking with people to find out for yourself what is going on, how people are being managed, what management is doing right and what they are doing wrong.
I found the advice from Bossidy the real key to the book. I especially recommend this for all leaders that think execution is something that is delegated for others to do. I also recommend this for any leader, no matter what size company, to validate the basics in their personal toolkit...are you "executing" the basics?