The Art of Execution

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by: Guy Kawasaki

If my memory isn't failing me, after the Robert Redford character gets elected in The Candidate, he whispers to one of his supporters, “Now what?” Raising money ls like running for office: it's very exciting and even fun if you get the money. But after you raise the money, now what?

The good news is that you got the money. The bad news is you got the money. At the end of the process, every entrepreneur has to answer the same question as the candidate: “Now what?” The answer to this question is, “Now you execute.” And the next question is, “How do we execute?” This is the topic of this blog.

  1. Create something worth executing.You're going to get tired of my obsession with great products but pitching, demoing, bootstrapping, and executing are a lot easier if you've created something meaning-full. It's hard to stay motivated and excited about executing crap. It's easy if you're changing the world. So if you and your team are having a hard time executing, maybe you're working on the wrong thing.

  2. Set goals. The next step is to set goals. Not just any kind of goals, but the right goals, and the right goals embody these four qualities:

    • Measureable. If a goal isn't measureable, it's unlikely you'll achieve it. For a startup, quantifiable goals are things like shipping deadlines, downloads, sales volume, whatever. The old yarn, “What gets measure gets done” is true. This also has ramifications on the number of goals because you can't (and shouldn't) measure everything. Three to five goals are plenty.

    • Achievable. Take your “conservative” forecast for these goals and multiply them by .1; then use that as your goal. For example, if you think you'll easily sell one million units in the first year, then set your goal at 100,000 units. There is nothing more demoralizing than setting a “conservative” goal and falling short; instead take 10% of your forecast, make this your goal, and blow it away. You might think that such a practice will lead to under-achieving organizations because they aren't being challenged–yeah, well, check back with me after you don't sell a million widgets like you conservatively thought you would.

    • Relevant. A good goal is relevant. If you're a software company, it's the number of downloads of your demo version. It's not your ranking in Alexa, so telling the company to focus on getting into the top 50,000 sites in world in terms of traffic is not nearly as relevant as 10,000 downloads per month.

    • Rathole-resistant. A goal can be measureable, achievable, and relevant and still send you down a rathole. Let's say you've created a content web site. Your measureable, achievable, and relevant goal is to sign up 100,000 registered users in the first ninety days. So far, so good. But what if you focus on this body count without regard to the stickiness of the site? So now you've gotten 100,000 people to register, but they visit once and never return. That's a rathole. Ensure that your goal encompasses all the factors that will make your organization viable.

  3. Postpone, or at least de-emphasize, touchy feely goals. I'll get lots of negative feedback about this, but touchy feel goals like “create a great work environment” are bull shitake. They may make the founders feel good. They may even make the employees feel good. But companies that execute on measurable goals are happy. Those that don't, aren't. As soon as you start missing the measurable goals, all the touchy feely stuff goes out the window. As my mother used to tell me, “Son, sales fixes everything.”

  4. Communicate the goals. Many executive teams set goals, but they don't communicate these goals to the organization. For goals to be effective, they have to be communicated to every employees in the organization. Employees should wake up in the morning thinking about how they're going to help achieve these goals.

  5. Measure progress on a weekly basis. The goals that people achieve are the goals that are measured. If you don't measure progress towards a goal, you might as well not set it. This is also another reason for setting only three to five goals: people can't focus on more than five, and measuring many more that five is difficult too. The optimal time period to review progress is weekly: monthly is too little pressure; daily is too anal.

  6. Establish a single point of responsibility. If you ask your employees who is responsible for a goal, and no one can answer you in ten seconds, then it means that there's not enough accountability. If more than one person is responsible for the achievement of a goal, then no one is responsible. Good employees accept responsibility. Great employees seek responsibility. Lousy employees avoid responsibility.

  7. Follow thru on an issue until it is done or irrelevant. Many organizations set goals and even measure progress towards them. However, after a short period of time, some goals are no longer on the radar because people start focusing on the coolest and most interesting stuff. For example, fixing bugs in the current version of a software application may not be as interesting as designing a new, breakthrough product, but your current customers think so.

  8. Reward the achievers. Rewarding the people who achieve their goals has two positive effects. First, the achievers feel rewarded and become even more excited about doing their job. Second, the under- and non-achievers know that the company takes execution very seriously. The form of the reward can be money, stock options, time off–whatever works to serve notice to everyone that “this person delivered.”

  9. Establish a culture of execution. Execution is not an event–a onetime push towards achieving goals. Rather it is a way of life, and this way of life (execution versus non-execution) is set in the early days of the organization. The best way to establish this culture is for the founders, particularly the CEO, to set an example of filling goals, responding to customers, and heeding and measuring employees. This obsession should go right down to the level of the CEO answering emails and responding to phone calls.

  10. Heed your “Morpheus.” Morpheus is the character in The Matrix who gave Neo the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. He was, essentially, the adult supervision. Cold, brutal reality is the ally of execution, so find a Morpheus who distributes the red pills and enables employees to see things as they really are.

Written at: Backseat of a car going to and from Stockton, California.

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