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February 16, 2011 » 7:41 am

Appreciating Execution

I have the pleasure of working with Rebecca Petzel on two of my current projects. She has great instincts and passion around collaboration, and she’s a thinker, a doer, and a learner. She’s already very good at many things, and if she stays on her current path, she’s going to be a force.

On our teams, we expect everyone to uphold their commitments. Rebecca is responsible for a long list of well-defined tasks. She does them all, and she does them well, without supervision.

I was synthesizing some notes today, and I needed to draw from a lot of prior work. Everything I was looking for was exactly where it was supposed to be. That was Rebecca’s doing. And even though this was a straightforward, ongoing task and she was “just doing her job,” I greatly appreciated her effectiveness at doing it.

Frankly, I know a lot of people who are smart. Only a small percentage of those folks are good at execution. I’m lucky to work with people who are good at both. Even though I expect everyone on our teams to live up to their commitments and to execute effectively, I don’t take it for granted when it happens.

I love what Stanford professor Bob Sutton says about execution: “Implementation, not strategy, is what usually separates winners from losers in most industries, and generally explains the difference between success and failure in most organizational change efforts.”

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3 Responses to “Appreciating Execution”

  1. Good observation. I'm, not surprisingly I suppose given our history, in a similar position: Loads of smart people only a few that are great at execution. Many that are good at getting started, but don't finish.

    And indeed not making it to finish the line is what breaks organizational change efforts. Seen that again and again and again.

    The collaboration aspect of this, of course, is the group understanding the way in which all people in the group are moving things forward, all the time, at the same time. Sounds like you're having a good experience with that.

  2. A good experience following some mediocre experiences. The difference has been having a higher standard of recruiting (being less forgiving of deficiencies in one area due to extreme talent in another) while also paying more attention to structure.

    For example, I'm a classic quick-start — good at starting things, not necessarily good at sustaining them. So I've been more intentional about surrounding myself with complementary people. However, I'm not just deferring that role to others. We make it a shared group responsibility with structures that reward discipline and execution. I am more motivated to perform better in those areas because of the people I'm working with.

    I'm always a little surprised at how it all goes back to our roots, although I obviously shouldn't be. Shared goals, shared values, shared language. They all matter a lot. And one of the most important shared values for a high-performing team is a hunger for ongoing learning and improvement.

  3. Tampa Bay Coach John McKay was asked about his team's execution amidst a 26 game losing streak: "I'm in favor of it!"

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