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Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done Hardcover – June 4, 2002
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Disciplines like strategy, leadership development, and innovation are the sexier aspects of being at the helm of a successful business; actually getting things done never seems quite as glamorous. But as Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan demonstrate in Execution, the ultimate difference between a company and its competitor is, in fact, the ability to execute.
Execution is "the missing link between aspirations and results," and as such, making it happen is the business leader's most important job. While failure in today's business environment is often attributed to other causes, Bossidy and Charan argue that the biggest obstacle to success is the absence of execution. They point out that without execution, breakthrough thinking on managing change breaks down, and they emphasize the fact that execution is a discipline to learn, not merely the tactical side of business. Supporting this with stories of the "execution difference" being won (EDS) and lost (Xerox and Lucent), the authors describe the building blocks--leaders with the right behaviors, a culture that rewards execution, and a reliable system for having the right people in the right jobs--that need to be in place to manage the three core business processes of people, strategy, and operations. Both Bossidy, CEO of Honeywell International, Inc., and Charan, advisor to corporate executives and author of such books as What the CEO Wants You to Know and Boards That Work, present experience-tested insight into how the smooth linking of these three processes can differentiate one company from the rest. Developing the discipline of execution isn't made out to be simple, nor is this book a quick, easy read. Bossidy and Charan do, however, offer good advice on a neglected topic, making Execution a smart business leader's guide to enacting success rather than permitting demise. --S. Ketchum
From Library Journal
Bossidy, an award-winning executive at General Electric and Allied Signal, came out of retirement to tend to Honeywell (and bring it back to prominence) after it failed to merge with General Electric. Charan has taught at Harvard and Kellogg Business Schools. Collaborating with editor and writer Burck, they present the viewpoint that execution (that is, linking a company's people, strategy, and operations) is what will determine success in today's business world. Bossidy and Charan aver that execution is a discipline integral to strategy, that it is the major job of any business leader hoping not just to be a success but to dominate a market, and that it is a core element of corporate culture. Details of both successful and unsuccessful executions at corporations such as Dell, Johnson & Johnson, and Xerox, to name a few, support not only their how-to method for bringing execution to the forefront but also the need for it. Each author addresses specific topics in paragraphs that begin with either "Larry" or "Ram," and this easy style adds to the appeal of a very readable book. Recommended for academic and public libraries.
Steven J. Mayover, Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The critical linking of strategy, operations and people is the role of the business leader, and in order to accomplish that critical mission, the leader must be meaningfully involved in those three elements - not micromanaging them, but leading them to efficient execution. The leader's most important job is the selection and appraising of the people in the organization, and this element should consume the bulk of their efforts and should never be delegated. The leader must embrace this role and thrive in it to ensure proper execution of the strategy and operations.
The combination of people and strategy lead to an operating plan, in which the execution takes place. This plan needs to be realistic, ambitious, resourced, specific and accountable. The authors note that this piece is often the art that falls short - where the operating plan is divorced from the strategy and people - and the execution suffers.
The book has critical questions and suggestions for the leader, and provides a platform for thought that is focused on getting things done rather than just the what and who theory of planning. An important read.
The basic premise of the book is that success in business comes down to how people, plans, and operations work together and execution is based on those core processes. In other words, leaders need to know their people, what their people need to do, and how their people do it. In all honesty...this seems incredibly basic.
Though there were some helpful parts of the book, it was poorly written. Even basic issues, like voice, are inconsistent. There were several times throughout the book where it seemed entire chapters repeat, let alone stories (I go to a plant, I meet with the leaders, I talk with the people, and I meet with the leaders again) or concepts like candid conversations. Compared to many other leadership books, it had no statistics beyond anecdotal or personal-experience stories.
This book did not read like it was written from someone who's making assumptions on leadership. There's no doubt it came from a place of experience. However, it was a surface-level treatment of leadership basics that left me frustrated for having spent the time reading the entire book. My guess is that if you are a high-caliber leader, this will be an elementary read. If you are a struggling leader, there are better and more helpful books out there for you.
A quick caveat to put aside. I do wish folks would not use company names as examples in books. The original one of these, "In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters did that. So did Jim Collins in "Good to Great". And this book does it too. What happens is that the authors use some company as an example to cite either a good or a bad practice. And a decade has passed and things have changed (perhaps 180 degrees). And that induces a chuckle in addition to both dating the book and casting doubt on the claim.
However, at least for this book, 'Execution', the above is only a caveat, since I found the book quite meaningful. The reason I perhaps did not read it when I first bought it many years ago is that it felt genuinely elementary. I was at the peak of my strategy work and when you are working on projects that are either reshaping a company or positioning oneself in new markets, the discipline of execution seems not only boring, but downright waste of time (not the importance of it mind you, but rather spending time thinking or reading about it).
However, now that I have moved on from the strategy function myself and am in a line management role with accountability for business results and accountability for a team and partner-relationships to deliver those results, I view this book in an entirely new light!
To share a personal reaction as I read this book ( a feeling I have not had since when I sat for my twelfth grade board examination!) - when I thought about implementing the ideas that Larry and Ram were talking about in their book on Tuesday morning Jan 2nd when I return to work, my stomach tightens into a knot! The level of sustained focus, discipline, follow through, attention to detail they expect in execution is non-trivial to say the least. Again, conceptually easy to grasp; but quite daunting if one thinks about putting them into real practice on a sustained basis throughout an organization!
Very briefly, they touch upon the strategic, people and operational processes as three core processes that are building blocks for execution and show how the three are related to each other. And through their experience and examples demonstrate how to implement each of these effectively. One particular insight that I liked that Larry made in particular was, 'just because an executive is good in her current job, does not mean she is ready or capable for the next'. Which is similar to what our Chairman says, "do the job you have been assigned, not your previous one."
Of course with a background in engineering (and manufacturing to boot), this whole notion of execution and organizing to execute is not alien to me at all. And in reality, my immersion for a long time in strategic work was what I needed to be more lithe in my thinking. However executing by one self or with a small team in a localized way on a specific deterministic engineering problem is one challenge. But to do the same with large revenues and large teams at stake and working through your teams through other teams with high week-to-week dependence on market conditions is another challenge.
This timely book was very worthwhile spending time with. Dated examples notwithstanding, one of the more immediately useful and relevant books in the business genre that I have read in a long time.