Execution Excellence – how much is Discretionary?

I was googling “execution excellence” recently and I was amazed at how much there is new on the topic, so I have lots of reading to do. But as I read the first few books / articles two themes started to emerge.

The themes are discretion and discipline. Some articles refer to how much discretion individual managers and employees have to impact execution for better or worse, despite all the efforts leadership teams put into designing strategies, systems and processes that generate consistent outcomes. The other theme is the need for discipline in order to execute excellently.

Bower & Gilbert (HBR Feb 2007) have studied the discretion that managers have to use their asset allocation discretion to support or ignore strategy and Jeffrey Immelt from General Electric (interviewed in HBR in June 2006) was even able to put a number on it. Despite all GE’s efforts to create disciplines on the cost side of their businesses, a recent study of pricing in the GE appliances businesses indicated that their salespeople have discretion over an estimated $5 billion in revenue. This is an astonishing figure, according to Immelt, that could translate into $50 billion across the whole of GE. The answer, according to Immelt, is to create more discipline in [the execution of] pricing decisions.

In many organisations I see the same issues occuring: managers and individuals have discretion over pricing, discounts, complaints, claims and resourcing decisions, which can affect the people and product strategies of their various business areas. One of most important roles of management is to support others to make disciplined decisions, rather than easy decisions, because although most people want to come to work to do a “good job”, their habits can get in the way.
The books / articles I’ve read include the following: Ram Charan & Larry Bossidy’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, because Charan is out in a month to run seminars for AIM. I was going to go to his session on the Leadership Pipeline, but now I think I will have to find a way to attend both.

Blogger George Veth, writing for DM Review, discusses the “new science” of executing strategy. In it he reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Michael Porter “poor strategy executed well is better than great strategy executed poorly”, which is why I believe it’s better to get out there and get started and spend lots of time explaining why and getting good feedback to improve, rather than sitting in the office trying to get the concept perfect first (note to self – follow wise advice and write more blogs).

Of course as soon as I mention discipline I think of Robert Fritz and the Path of Least Resistance and his newer book Managerial Moments of Truth, which is about the discipline of focussing on reality rather than what we would prefer.

Enough for the moment, time to practice the discipline of editing and publishing this blog.

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