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Execution takes courage, right?

April 14, 2015 Mark Hannum

There’s never a shortage of articles in the biz press about execution and strategy. Some describe execution “fails.” Others provide tips on how to execute better. And some provide a mash-up of both. And this comes as no surprise. Virtually every organization I work with is focused, even obsessed, with execution. Getting stuff done is always a hot topic. And while there are many reasons cited for execution “fails”—lack of alignment, poor planning, communication and culture problems, reward and recognition issues, and the globally used “talent deficit”—all of these issues can be traced back to a lack of strategic clarity.

This is because most organizations are complex and most have a major investment in the status quo, i.e. current, market-ready products and services. Capital is invested in technology, buildings, machines, and distribution methods. Individuals have decades of investment in expertise in the status quo. They’re invested in the old strategy!

So, if execution is a problem for your organization, it’s critical to look at your organization’s investment in the past. The most effective organizations are fearless in their ability to get rid of everything that keeps people rooted in the old world. And even if they have millions of dollars tied up in old-strategy resources (materials, technologies, talent, processes, etc.), they know that keeping older resources around muddles the essential clarity needed for the disciplined execution required to keep up in the 21st-century business environment.

The simple fact is this: execution of strategy requires courage. Call it boldness. Call it taking a risk. Call it leadership. The most successful leaders must be willing to ruffle the feathers of their experts and their masters, and even be willing to eliminate perfectly good technology, machinery, process and talent because they represent the past more than the future. When you look around, do you see an unhealthy amount of the past? Do you really believe that you can repurpose that piece of technology that you paid way too much for six years ago? Maybe the brave thing to do is take some space and dress it up and call it your museum!

The other place to look for clarity is in how you make decisions. Do you have the courage as a leadership team to make the best decision. Do you look for consensus? Do you look for the decision everyone will accept? For common ground? For mediocrity? If your decision-making process has drifted into a process where you are pleasing all your stakeholders, it’s virtually guaranteed that you have muddled the clarity of your message.

Strategy does not necessarily require unanimous agreement, but it does require clarity around your commitments. It means making decisions that you cannot take back. It means being “all-in.” It comes from a bold place where you really look at what it takes to fully commit to the execution of your strategic concepts and invest in the future—clearing out the past and then going for it—consequential decisiveness. Execution takes courage.

Are you and your leadership team up to the challenge? You better be.

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