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Yiannis Zarkadis (MSc Management Science 1987 Yiannis Zarkadis (MSc Management Science 1987)

This blog post is written by Yiannis Zarkadis (MSc Management Science 1987), Founder of CONSULT2XL. He draws on his experiences working at Unilever, GrandMet/IDV, SC Johnson and Bacardi, and explores the benefits of ‘execution excellence’.

As Steve Jobs put it, “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.” And although the ultimate success is a mixture of high performance and right strategy, I am sure that many leaders will agree, it is better to have an average strategy with superb execution than a superb strategy with poor execution.

With the right structure and right team in place, from my experience these are the ‘8 Key Steps’ of a great execution: 

1. Connect the team with the company

For this to succeed there must be good relations and a positive working climate among the members of team. You then need to look at the greater scope: the sense of belonging (belonging to a family, to the company).

To make this happen, the team must be aware of all the key information and goals, as well as the Company’s vision, mission, purpose and values and how all these are connected with each other. Be realistic and pragmatic, instead of theoretical and utopic. A clear description of the team’s own mission will help them understand why they are there and what they have to do. Similarly, the team must be aware of the company’s overall objectives and strategies, the greater context must be understood.

2. Set high pace and standards

Two key characteristics of high performing teams are speed and accuracy. Make sure that the team moves at the pace of the fastest member instead of the pace of the slowest, not even the average.

Develop a laser-focused approach, by providing the team with all the necessary tools: training, coaching, performance reviews, sharing of best practices, hardware and software.

3. Aim correctly and clearly

Define the goals: What have we got to do and why? When we have got to do it and who is involved? Be optimistic and realistic. ‘Mission Impossible’ maybe a great Hollywood film, but it is a bad idea for business planning. Accompany these goals with a crystal clear set of SMART objectives e.g. measurable targets which serve to successfully attain the goals.

4. Analyse the situation

Get a deep understanding of the greater environment within which the team will execute its mission. Strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the economy and market situation, legislation, channels, key customers and competitors, available resources, obstacles and constraints etc. This will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the strategy and plan, and increase the confidence of the team.

5. Define the key challenges and the jobs to be done

Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Decide on the key strategic decisions regarding the main challenges and the steps that need to be taken in order to succeed.

Be very focused and highly selective in this part. During the schedule you will meet various challenges, external and internal, that will blur the landscape. But you cannot do it all, you have to be selective. Make the right choices regarding the key challenges and the tasks you need to achieve.

6. Plan execution

Execution planning is one of the most essentials parts and must be embedded in a very concrete way within the schedule. It is about all the detailed steps which ensure that tasks are carried out successfully. If properly and consistently implemented, this will ensure a team exceeds expectations and executes the mission to excellent standards.

Execution planning helps to visualise what success looks like and schedule all necessary steps to make it happen. For example, from an FMCG commercial perspective it can be a platform that contains the details of consumer and shopper insightsmarket segmentation, picture of successcoverage planIT toolstraining and change managementpicture of success scorecardincentive system and target setting and routines.

The risk with the above approach is that is can be seen as just another bureaucratic process. Also, it contains change and there can be resistance to this. What I have learned is that in order to make it work and effectively unlock potential, it is necessary to:

    1. Explain why a holistic approach to execution planning is needed and how it works.
    2. Keep it simple, lean and mean.
    3. Be persistent and consistent.
    4. Standardise and automate as much as possible.
    5. Turn your attention to change management and key people.

If done properly, employees will feel proud and happy to bring added value to the business, customers, and their own professional achievement.

7. Inspire and reinforce

This is the time for strong management and leadership – an important and inspirational chapter.

In order to achieve execution excellence you need to be able to:

  • Make the team to perform consistently beyond expectations and exceed standards (A→A+).
  • But for the team to be able to conquer such a challenging state on an ongoing basis, we need also to be able to bring change (B→A).
  • Lead by example, from the front, by action, encouragement and reward.
  • Lead by rules, exchange, inspiration and personality.
  • Adjust to a situation, but also to transform teams, in order to make them stronger.

8. Evaluate

Evaluation of the implementation is an integral step. For the wheel of I.D.A.F. (Information→Decision→Action→Feedback) to roll effectively, you have to continuously measure progress, feedbacklearn, adjust and improve.

Key Takeaway

Execution excellence is a game-changer and can give you a clear advantage over competitors. Although it is hard to achieve, it is not a rocket science and relies on strong decision making and active leadership.

Imagine how a great execution looks like and commit to it. And then it will happen. Because if you can dream it, you can become it!

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