The Relationship of Execution to Success

I’m like a billion other people out there that read all (OK, almost all) of Seth Godin’s work because it makes them think.  I’m inspired and agree with most, flinch with some,  struggle with a bit but reject very little.  Seth’s recent blog on The Hierarchy of Success finds me somewhere in the middle of ‘struggle’ and ‘reject’.

I think most of my angst is in his perception of execution.  Perhaps he has confused execution with minutiae or even obsession.  Now my world is the world of midmarket companies and God knows there are a ton of midmarket executives that obsess over the details of a benefits package or the colors of the corporate logo, but I don’t really consider this execution, just bad leadership.

Just about every midmarket CEO I meet can tell me what their company does and where they would like to see it go.  It may not be pretty, but if really pressed, they can give you a visionary tale on the future of the company.  Where I see many fall however, is in the execution of those new ideas or strategy or approach.

Most midmarket companies are very good at what they do, or once were.  The challenge they face occurs when they shift directions (and they inevitably will).  When they move into the unknown, they often struggle with the ‘execution’ of the new strategy or approach.  The leadership and management skills needed to build the product or deliver the service that sells today does not always map to the skills needed to turn the company in a new direction.  That latter requires the ability to execute the plan … the new plan … the plan that contains the new strategy and approach and tactics for the new product or service you are taking to market.

So Seth may be right if you’re talking about executing the current game plan.  But the leaders of today’s successful companies know how to execute transformational initiatives that continue to build enterprise value.  Leaders that can’t execute are left in the dust holding that strategic plan filled with visionary platitudes, out of line strategies and unrealistic goals.

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