Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan (New York: Crown Publishing, 2009 Revised Edition. 320 pp)

Larry Bossidy earned a B.A. in Economics from Colgate University. He began working at General Electric in 1957 and worked his way up the corporate ladder finally securing Vice Chairman in 1984. He has also served as Chairman and CEO of AlliedSignal and Honeywell Corporation.

An author, consultant, and scholar, Ram Charan has consulted with companies such as GE, KLM, and Bank of America. He has taught at Harvard Business School, the Kellogg School of Management, and Boston University.

The Academy and the Company

Having experienced this phenomenon over the last year or so, I can safely attest to its accuracy. The shift between academic life and business life is stark, challenging, and effulgent.

The scholarly life requires deep rumination, careful consideration, and an ability to distill complexity into simplicity so that others might learn. In terms of delivery, the academic certainly has deadlines, but responsibility falls on one’s self. There are no clear and present responsibilities toward others; only your grade is on the line.

Business, on the other hand, remains rooted in thought, but holds a fiduciary responsibility to others. To succeed, one must connect strategy with action. You must constantly prove your worth to those with which you hold agreements. Failure to execute means failure to remain gainfully employed.

While I mean no harm to the academic life and I admit I will always continue my scholarly pursuits, I bring up the differences between business and the academy to accent a central point: those in business are in constant need of linking thought to action, or put differently, practice what they’ve promised.

With Execution, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan provide a framework for getting things done in the business world.

How to Practice What You’ve Promised

Whether a Fortune 500 leader or a small business CEO, Bossidy and Charan contend that the greatest challenge for leaders is to move from effective strategy to flawless application.

Brainstorming is easy; outlining opportunities is simple. But when it comes to follow through, the Devil is in the details as it is said.

“Execution is not just tactics—it is a discipline and a system. It has to be built into a company’s strategy, its goals, and its culture” (6).

Bossidy and Charan suggest a systematic, hands-on approach from leaders. Too much distance and employees have no direction. Too suffocating an approach and employees cannot work creatively to bring perspective to a project.

“The leader must be in charge of getting things done by running the three core processes—picking other leaders, setting the strategic direction, and conducting operations. These actions are the substance of execution, and leaders cannot delegate them regardless of the size of the organization” (24).

While a leader must be involved to ensure execution, she must learn to ask the right questions to help her employees remain on track. She must also follow up. Her employees need to know the plan, to understand the process for reviews, and to have a clear sense of deliverables connected to a concrete timeline. With anything less, employees feel lost in a sea of ambiguity.

A Culture of Execution

Stated in an earlier quote, execution also entails properly defined culture. The leader must engrain the philosophy of execution into the fabric of a firm. This process might mean firing some people—inevitably, not everyone holds the same values and regrettably, not everyone wants to contribute to results.  The ability to diagnose problems and to work with people to help them find a vocational fit will not only influence bottom-line results, but it will also contribute to healthy morale.

Ultimately, any business is a collection of human beings. Your culture is directly tied to people.

“An organization’s human beings are its most reliable resource for generating excellent results year after year. Their judgments, experiences, and capabilities make the difference between success and failure” (109).

To generate a healthy culture, a leader must know his people, he must engage in open dialogue with them, and ultimately he must have faith that they can get things done.

Getting Things Done

As I am currently discovering, execution is a learned trait, not a talent. With dedication, theories become results, recommendations turn to actions, and ultimately, execution precedes success. With the utmost respect for the academic world, it takes experience in the crucible of the marketplace to truly understand how to deliver in a timely manner and with quality. If you are looking for some guidance on how not only to organize your business life, go read Execution.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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