All hail the king: Execution

There is a strong focus on finding the amazing idea, the great vision that fuels individuals and companies to reach higher goals and overcome any obstacle in the way. It seems to me that many times, finding the ‘billion dollar’ idea, or the vision that will change the world (and maybe make it better) is the highest goal of what human beings can aim for. Many times media focuses in the visionaries that saw further and built a different future. In may opinion this kind be cool but it does not explain the context and how all was executed.

Execution is not strategy. Strategy is a plan of action that is made before the action begins to communicate the expected route that an individual or a group has to follow to reach an objective. Therefore, strategy is always made before the real problems arise. And some people will say that comes before the real work begins.

Let’s oversimplify a situation so I can show my point quickly: let’s say that I have a vision of buying some groceries in a market nearby to make myself a nice dinner:

  • Our vision will be to bought groceries. That’s the idea that fuels all the work that will be done later. And that’s what it is going to change our future.
  • Our strategy is to open the door, walk in straight line to the market and the buy what we need.
  • At that point, is when we start the execution: now that we have our objective, context and strategy, we can start working towards the goal:
  • We open the door as indicated by our strategy, however; we realized that it is not very safe to leave the door open, so we have to close it afterwards (which was not included in our strategy). We need to redesign the process by going back to pick up our keys, then open the door and close it behind ourselves.
  • Now is just walking in a straight line to the market. However, we realized that in the street there are some workers fixing the area in front of us, people walking in the opposite direction and some crossings where we should follow the indications by the traffic lights. Solving all this small issues that we have not foreseen is easy, but takes ourselves out of the neat strategy that we have figured out before.
  • Now that I am at the market I can start buying what I need but… I don’t have a list of what I need! Now I have a decision to make, do I go back, or do I just buy what I think I need?

Previous example is really simple, but illustrates clearly the following:
a) it is easy to forget about important and crucial steps in our strategy
b) there are several things that we will not be able to know before we start executing our strategy.
In the example, it is easy to see how we don’t need to go home and revisit our strategy every single time we find an obstacle. However, when the strategy to reach our objectives does not take in account that things can go wrong (and will go wrong), it may lead to a freezing point where progress is stopped. In the last point, our strategy shows that is deeply flawed, yet we have to execute something, maybe is best to go back home, maybe is best to just try ourselves (which one is better depends on the context, and in a business environment this could be very difficult). But what we cannot do is just stay there and do nothing. Decisions always have to be made, and likely a bad decision will be better than doing nothing.

I hope the example shows why I deeply believe that execution is the most important part of the progress to achieve and objective. Having a vision (or objective) and a strategy on how to achieve that are extremely important first steps. Without them, we will not have an idea about what we are going to execute. But once this steps are sufficiently known, the focus goes to achieve the best possible execution.

In companies, the vision (why the company exists) and also the execution (how we work towards our vision) is what makes all the difference. Both of them make for the differentiation of the company against others in the same market. For example, 2 companies may be focused on improving healthcare, but how they approach it (for example developing technology or developing better medicines) makes them completely different. Even though they can share the exactly same vision of saving people lives.

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