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Process Improvement

Better, Faster, Smarter – Building an Execution-Centered Culture

December 20, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Process Improvement

Better, Faster, Smarter – Building an Execution-Centered Culture

Some companies like Dell, Wal-mart, Jet-Blue Airlines or Samsung (at least currently) are well-known for effectively executing strategies year-in and year-out. If this is the case, what is it that these companies (and several others like them) do that is more successful than others?

To start with, according to expert authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan (as detailed in their book “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done”), strategies should ideally be built with an eye towards execution. The seeds of execution problems need to be planted early, often during the strategy formulation phase. In most cases implementation is considered after strategy has been formulated.

Implementation is an important part of strategic management and should therefore be considered as the opposite side of the same coin as strategic planning and included in the strategy development process. Bossidy and Charan state that an important aspect of building a strategy for successful execution is “reaching down” into the organization and genuinely including those people responsible for executing in the planning process. Execution demands ownership at all levels of management. Senior executives must therefore commit to and own the processes and actions central to effective execution.

Some people may well perceive it to be the case that there are actually two processes going on in trying to do design good processes. One is a conceptual process of strategy development, and the other is taking action or the execution process itself. This separation of “planning” and “doing” is almost always problematic. Managers should therefore ideally be thinking about practical execution as they formulate plans; after all, they’re part of an integrated, strategic management approach. In addition, managers should invite input on strategy from customers, employees, suppliers, and others who poses valuable perspectives on the company’s direction.

The key to executing a strategy, according to management writers and consultants Robert Kaplan and David Norton, is to have people in your organization understand it –including the crucial but perplexing processes by which intangible assets will be converted to tangible outcomes. For them, successful execution requires that strategy be clearly defined, clearly communicated, and well-understood by employees, customers, partners and investors. In order to out-execute competitors, organizations must consequently communicate clear strategies to all of their employees at all levels (and most crucially customer-facing staff). The essence of a strategy should therefore be able to be communicated simply and concisely so that all employees, at all levels, can “live” the strategy in their day-to-day operations.

Faster, Better, Smarter and More Often

Excellent execution is not just about doing the right things. It is about doing the right things faster, better, smarter and more often than competitors do. Doing so often requires a commitment from employees that goes beyond the normal organization-employee relationship. It requires a “high-performance culture” and that culture needs to be created. Also, with the introduction of any new strategy comes the need to create a need for change (to bring about the high-performance culture being sought). However, even when change will clearly lead to an improved situation, people don’t often embrace it unless they personally recognize the need to do so.

Bossidy and Charan say that most efforts at cultural change (necessary to build the execution mentality) fail because the change efforts aren’t linked to improving the business outcomes. In addition, the ideas and tools for cultural change are fuzzy and too often disconnected from strategic and operational realities. They suggest that cultural change gets real when your stated and overarching aim is execution and that the organization needs to change people’s behavior so that they produce results.

Although it is a “no holds barred” philosophy, Bossidy and Charan state that in order to successfully manage change, the organization must tell people clearly what results they expect, discuss how to produce the results, reward people for producing the results and, if they come up short, provide additional coaching, give them other jobs, or let them go. Of course, most importantly in this, executing a cultural change depends first and foremost on having the right people. The culture of any organization is made up of its people and it is the people who are ultimately responsible for executing the strategy. The implementation of new strategies consequently calls for new human resource management priorities and a different use of people. Challenges can therefore involve hiring new people with new skills, moving or even firing people with inappropriate or substandard skills, and/or relatively quickly training existing employees to learn new skills.

Ultimately then, we can say that execution fundamentally requires that people be aligned with the overall strategy and are given a job or tasks that best suit their skills and talents. Good person/job fit results in higher levels of intrinsic motivation which in turn increases employee performance.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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