Execution - Getting it Right

Churchill once famously said “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”.

And there is no better way of doing this than by mastering the art of business execution.

Successful execution of your business plan is all about making it happen, having a vision and ensuring it’s followed through effectively. Done right it is a disciplined process. However, for most businesses executing the business plan is the hardest part. Too many business owners spend a disproportionate amount of time putting out fires rather than focusing on execution of their plan.

According to John Spence of the Wharton School of Business many organisations only execute 10-15% of their strategy. Think of the lost revenue and profit this represents and how much additional benefit could be gained by instilling a strong sense of discipline and execution.  

So how do you improve your execution skills?

The main requirements are: 1) Set clear goals for everyone that are fully aligned with the business strategy. 2) Establish clear expectations around accountability. 3) Use performance measures to track progress, provide for short term wins and recognise employees for good results.  4) Expect obstacles and be fully prepared. 

1. Set clear goals for everyone that are fully aligned with the business strategy

Focus the organisation on a few key strategies and ensure the company objectives are fully aligned with those strategies. Don’t overburden the organisation with a myriad of strategies, it’s unproductive and confusing, six to eight are usually enough.  When priorities are confusing or at odds, it leads to failure.

Ensure the objectives or key performance indicators (KPI’s) are clearly measurable and those responsible accountable for the goals. This will provide a clear direction and sense of connection to the strategy and help the employees work on the right tasks in the most efficient way possible. It is vital that employees understand how their jobs contribute to the execution outcomes.


Once the strategies and KPI’s are set, the next part of the process is gaining alignment. This is the key to ownership and accountability. People need to understand three things:

a)    What you want them to do?
b)    What is in it for them?
c)    Why you want them to do it?

Get your employees involved or they will never be truly committed to the goal. Ask for their input and use their suggestions on how to achieve the KPI’s.  

2. Establish clear expectations around accountability.

The leaders in the company need to demonstrate personal commitment to disciplined execution. They need to model the values they want the organisation to live by so the rest of the organisation is motivated to achieve the right results.

They also need to set the pace and develop a sense of urgency. The leaders need to understand that getting people on board with the overall strategy is not easy but have the resolve to push for success.

The leaders also need to ensure that everyone is given the training, support, resources and necessary help to be successful in executing the key objectives. They need to ensure that obstacles to success are removed and that the employees are fully supported to achieve their goals.

3. Use performance measures to track progress, provide for short term wins and recognise employees for good results.

Short term wins need to be developed to demonstrate progress. The odds of successfully executing a plan that isn’t reviewed often are slim to none. The business objectives risk losing momentum if there are no short-term KPI’s to achieve and celebrate. This is accomplished through quarterly KPI’s that are aligned with the overall strategy and move the business forward.

These KPI’s become the absolute priority for the next 90 days and are reviewed weekly. As these KPI’s are achieved recognise and reward the individuals or teams involved. Giving praise and recognition demonstrates to the organisation the behaviours that are desired.

4. Expect obstacles and be fully prepared 

As with the implementation of any strategy obstacles and obstructions will occur. These will include resistance to change, longer time frames needed for execution and poor information sharing.

However, for successful execution to occur it is best to anticipate that things will not go as planned. Where possible establish plans or roadmaps to help managers deal with the challenges. Communicating the problems to all levels and making people aware of the situation by involving them in designing a solution encourages buy in and ownership.

People tend to procrastinate when problems occur. Regardless, it is key that leaders quickly assess the situation and determine a course of action to move the business forward.  This naturally includes employee performance problems which need to be dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.

Sometimes it is best to bring in an external consultant or professional to assist in the process thereby providing an unbiased and objective viewpoint.  Whatever the outcomes expect obstacles and problems to occur and deal with them as soon as possible. 


Effective execution is difficult but is often the key to business success. Owners and managers alike know more about operating their business than instilling disciplined execution.  

While many business leaders don’t know how best to execute their business strategy the basics above provide a proven framework for success. There are no guarantees. However, by following these four basic steps will improve the odds and allow the business to achieve its goals and improve its revenue and profitability.


Author: David Shackleton, Partner of nem New Zealand. 
This article is based on research and opinion available in the public domain.

[1] Attribution: Author: David Novak, Taking people with you.
[2] Attribution: Ravi Kathuria, How cohesive is your company?
[3] Attribution: Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan The discipline of getting things done.