Long term strategies for success
It’s often said that business is 10% strategy and 90% execution and I certainly believe this to be true. As part of your business education it’s important to read widely, listen to business experts (inside and outside of the profession) and to keep absorbing new information. However, all that reading, listening and absorbing needs to be synthesised into actual ideas that you can execute.
So how do you improve your execution skills?
Here are five steps you can take:
1. Make Decisions
Good business owners make decisions. They may not always be right, but they continue to make them anyway. In my experience it’s better to make a mistake and know it’s wrong, than to forever procrastinate and theorise without taking action.
Yes, you should take some time to consider a decision or do some research, but don’t take too long. Venture capital firms back ideas knowing that the original business plan might be changed two or three times as the new venture finds its way.
Business is a small series of experiments, many of which end in failure; that’s just how it is.
2. Hold weekly meetings that resolve issues
Some firms hold weekly meetings, others don’t. However, if you want to execute new ideas successfully, your leadership team needs to be meeting weekly and actually resolving issues that arise in the business.
The reason some firms don’t hold weekly meetings is that their meetings don’t ever seem to achieve anything. It’s the discipline and structure of the weekly meeting that allows you to resolve issues. The best process I’ve seen for meetings is contained in Gino Wickman’s book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. Grab a copy and read it, if you haven’t already.
When an issue is raised at your weekly meeting, ask yourself “Is this the real issue?”
Rarely is the issue presented the real issue you need to resolve. Often it’s just a symptom. By asking yourself this question you’ll find the quality of your ensuing discussion and solutions improve out of sight.
3. Have strict quarterly objectives
As part of your execution skill set you need to be setting quarterly goals that move your business forward. Ideally you want between three and seven of these goals (and remember, less is more).
Once these goals are set, it’s essential that they become your absolute top priority for the next 90 days. At your weekly meetings, the status of these goals should be one of your key discussion points.
It’s very easy to get sidetracked each week with issues that appear to be vitally important. However bouncing from issue to issue is a major blockage to effective execution; don’t do it. Stay focused on your quarterly objectives and simply record any new issues arising on a separate list for you to consider when you can. That way the issue is captured and not forgotten, but doesn’t dominate proceedings.
4. Make long-term decisions
Another key to better execution is trying to make long-term decisions. It’s all too easy to become target focused; trying to hit the weekly, monthly and quarterly financial targets you’ve set for yourself and the business. Constant short-term decision making leads to short-term results, but creates no foundations for future improvement.
You try to extract some information from your back office system, but the report is useless because the data you’ve captured is no good. Clearly, you can just find a work around for this problem and with pressure to get a range of other time-sensitive work done, it’s easy to believe this is the right call. However, if you were taking long-term decisions, you’d identify the real issue and create a plan to address it. In twelve months time that long-term decision sees your business in much better shape. It may not seem like a big decision at the time, but I believe it is.
5. Get some outside accountability
For some reason we’re all pretty adept at identifying everyone else’s issues, but not our own. So the final step in improving your execution is to get some outside accountability. Often this will be an external person who can sit on your board or attend regular strategy meetings to hold you (the owner), accountable for what you said you would do.
No one likes to turn up and say they haven’t done what they promised, so this simple step can really make a difference to your execution skills.
Hire a non-executive if you can afford it, or just ask a friend, business acquaintance, or your spouse to attend key meetings and help keep some accountability. I play the non-exec role for some firms and both they, and I, believe that it really helps keep the focus.