A 2004 STUDY BY THE STANDISH GROUP, an IT research firm in West Yarmouth, Mass., indicates that only 29 percent of all projects succeed (that is, they are delivered on time, on budget, and with required features and functions). The rest are late, over budget or simply fail. Fortunately, there are steps we as leaders can take to ensure success.
In The New York Times’ bestseller, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, former Honeywell International CEO Larry Bossidy and corporate consultant Ram Charan share their insights on the three areas every manager needs to master to ensure successful execution: people, strategy and operations, all of which are intertwined. Their point: If you have the right people in the right positions, you can collaborate with them to develop a good strategy, and then create an operating plan that details how your organization will attain its goals and then execute effectively.
Every IT operation has different challenges, but the lessons Bossidy and Charan teach are universal. In a recent phone interview, Charan discussed key points of successful execution.
People are the most important element in execution because they help develop and implement strategies, Charan says. The first step is to hire good employees who are excited about working in your organization. So check their references and ask detailed questions about how they handle tasks and run projects.
“Get them to describe in detail the things they have done, how they did them, who was involved and what the impediments to success were,” Charan explains. “Those details will tell you how this person works with people and their ideas on getting things done.”
Don’t Tell, Coach
Good leaders shouldn’t micromanage, but they must be hands-on if they want results, Charan points out. That means talking regularly to employees, getting to know them and coaching them so they can improve their skills. Micromanaging is telling people how to do their jobs, while coaching gives employees advice on the best ways to do their work. “Coaching opens up minds,” Charan says. “When you ask, ‘How are you going to do that?’ you open them up to new options.”
When creating a strategy, managers must include everyone who is involved with implementing the plan or is affected by it. That gives each stakeholder a say in its success. To execute, managers must set goals for everyone to achieve. “In government, everyone wants to do a good job,” Charan says, adding that employees want to take pride in their work. Enabling them to feel a sense of accomplishment is a good incentive.
Managers should conduct regular reviews to make sure everyone is on track with their goals. “It requires dialogue,” Charan says. “How is it going to be done? What are the targets? You have to ensure that communication is good.” As employees prove they are responsible and can accomplish their tasks, managers don’t have to follow up as often, he adds.
As a CDW executive, I endorse this strategy. I often ask colleagues, “What if?” That approach engages my staff, creates an honest dialogue and opens the company up to new possibilities. Before we know it, we’re brainstorming and thinking an idea through completely. We perfect a strategy and develop the detailed operational steps to turn it into reality. As Bossidy and Charan state, everyone feels ownership. Everyone knows what is expected of them. We have a plan, and we accomplish it — together.
Leaders may have their own distinct management styles but to succeed, they must engage themselves in every facet of the operation — from personnel and strategy to implementation. It’s a blueprint for success that we should all follow.
Seven Steps to Good Execution
• Get to know your entire staff by talking to them. Don’t be out of touch.
• Demand that everyone be realistic. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver.
• Set clear goals and priorities.
• Follow up with the staff to ensure they do their jobs.
• Reward top performers with praise and promotions.
• Improve your staff members’ skills through direct coaching and outside training.
• Know your strengths and weaknesses. Work to correct flaws. Tackle issues head-on.
Source: Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, 2002