The Ability to Execute is the Key


Execution is often mistaken as a ‘blue-collared capability’ in management. The need to roll up one’s sleeves, get into the details and work hard is very important. The ability to chart out the course, plan over a time horizon, forecast macro and micro economic consequences and articulate what the future looks like is also critical. We see myriad projects around us which are envisioned and chalked out with the best of intentions. The problem has never been the effectiveness of strategy, but the failure to think it through and take action when the ‘rubber hits the road’. No amount of planning will prepare you for the outcome when you implement, improve or change an initiative. The tactical steps for implementing a strategy are often underrated and considered as the work of ‘the lesser others’.

Executions gone wrong are neither the mistakes of able gurus who articulate strategies nor are they the inefficiencies of those who are implementing them. It is the nature of the beast. The state of flux in our times keeps the ground shifting always. The baseline is not constant anymore and even the basic variables we think we have control over are subject to erratic behaviour.

The other big variant, which makes long-term strategy less potent, is technology. The very classification of industries into IT and non-IT is not the right way to look at business. The dividing lines are extremely thin since every traditional service is now embedded in technology and every product has an ounce of technology in it to make it perform better. The other common excuse is the change in leadership. Unfortunately, in several organisations, leadership changes are far more frequent than desired. Here, in a broader context, it will be interesting to revisit another ‘4 P’ model.


The questions to ponder are; What problems you are trying to solve? What are your immediate goals? Given a choice, what are the things you want to give importance to? A razor sharp focus on the intended outcome will also help you allocate time and resources to the core, keeping a roving eye on the desirables.


In most complex projects, the people who buy-in and the team which is implementing it are both key factors of success. With singularity of purpose and commitment to deliver to the best of their ability, they can do wonders in any endeavour. Apart from subject matter experts it is also important to have people with an agile mindset and a handful of creatives who will keep an eye on what is going around, create brand stories, align engagement to the initiatives and celebrate success.


Classic project management, critical path methods, PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) charts, Gantt charts and hypothesis testing are considered old school. These are extremely useful in framing tasks, preparing for scenarios, coordinating responses to events and articulating progress. Contingencies and obstacles are not surprises but are events you have to plan for. The negative scenarios are to be considered and hypothetical events are more likely to happen than ever today. The stakeholder management principles are paramount – time and resources have to be allocated to community engagement and sometimes appeasement.


It may seem innocuous and at times churlish, but in large engagements, which are to deliver a bounty of goodies, you will find a queue of bounty hunters lining up for a piece of the pie and another beeline of those who want to claim credit for the best. While the hardworking invisible foot-soldiers will be trooping in with purpose and passion, these other forces will be hovering around, seeking glory without shedding sweat and tears. Identify such influences and chart out an action plan to get the best out of them or at least mitigate the worst from them.

As a competency, execution, the ability to get things done, is a mindset to be inculcated and instilled, which can, at many junctures, make the difference between success and failure.

(The author is Executive Director-Markets, Kerala & Tamil Nadu, EY and President, TiE Kerala)