Many executives, consultants, and academics focus their effort on crafting the perfect strategy. assuming formulation is the hard part, while implementation is straightforward. They maximize the brilliance of their strategy, while treating execution as a thresh-hold variable that must be met.
This approach is wrong-headed. Instead of maximizing strategic elegance and accepting satisfactory execution, executives should formulate a good-enough strategy and maximize their ability to execute. Many industries exhibit limited variation in strategy, while winners separate themselves from also-rans through execution.
Many managers equate execution with process discipline. Six sigma or ISO certification, in their minds, measures of an organization’s ability to execute. But as I have argued in previous posts, the standardization that allows continuous improvement in processes also impedes the execution on novel initiatives. Motorola pioneered six sigma quality program, but look where that company is today.
The most important corporate initiatives are often non-routine. These include projects to integrate company mergers, fill market gaps that fall between current business units, roll out large-scale IT systems and develop innovative solutions to new customer needs. Promises, or employees’ personal pledges to stakeholders within and outside an organization, offer an alternative way to execute on non-routine activities with vigor.
A firm, in this approach, is less a bundle of standardized processes than a network of interconnected commitments to get things done. These promises extend up and down the chain of command, across units, and beyond the boundaries of the firm. Along with my co-author Charles Spinosa, I have studied what makes for effective promises in dozens of organizations. We have found that the best promises share five characteristics; they are public, active, voluntary, explicit, and include a clear rationale for why they matter.
- Public. The most effective promises are made in public, thereby increasing the cost of f