As I sat frustrated trying to piece together a solid execution plan for my leadership development framework it really got me thinking of execution excellence. These fragmented components of strategy for my intellectual property needed to get executed like clockwork for its success. I have talked about vision, goals, refining the what without worrying about the how in previous posts. It is now important to address the ‘how’.

The dictionary definition of execution is:

1. The carrying out of a plan, order, or course of action

2. The carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person

And that of excellence is: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good

In essence, execution excellence is the ability to carry out a plan in an outstanding manner. Of course, we all knew that. We also know the failure rate for plan execution is huge. Business leaders spend time and effort putting together plans, only to find that other things come up and take them further away from what their teams had agreed to do to reach organizational goals.

As the speed of doing business continues to increase, getting execution right is becoming more and more critical. Being clear about goals, being fully committed and accountable, translating these goals to everyday tangible actions to produce high quality results is just not negotiable for present and future success.

Actually, it is not just about execution. It is about executing bigger and better than your competitors. Execution excellence plays an unforgiving role in ultimate success for an organisation. The question is how do you get yourself and your team members to do this consistently. All leaders realise the value of execution, period. Nevertheless, improving it remains a challenge. There are several different reasons for this. It could be limitations with resources or constraints such as time, skills or the environment outside. Another is that everyone across the organisation may not be on the same page when it comes to the top-priority status of getting things done, all the way down to the finish line. A Harvard Business Review study found senior managers ranked execution first on a list of various skills, while others ranked it fourth, behind abilities like inspiring, motivating, and problem solving. Clearly, there can sometimes be a disconnect about the paramount importance of execution excellence.

Another point to note is that sometimes the distinction between implementation and execution is not clear. They are not the same. Implementation is doing what we need in order to turn a strategy into reality. Execution is the next step: the actions taken to turn an implemented strategy into business success. In other words, it’s about producing superior and tangible results.

How can we ensure that execution is on track and produces better than expected results? There are a number of realistic, sustainable ways to foster a culture of execution excellence. Here are some suggestions:

1.Strategy: Having a robust strategic vision is a must. It acts as the blueprint, which enables goal deployment aligning the people, systems and processes necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. But first, are you confident of your plan? The last mile excellence is a marathon, not a sprint.

To sustain the drive and achieve goals, the plan must assemble the right people, and gather the resources you need. Once these are in place, assign clear responsibilities. As the saying goes, ‘When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.’ Each person should know what they are accountable for within the overall blueprint—this provides a sense of direction and ownership, both of which are integral to execution success.

2. Focus - provides the clarity necessary to make decisions that support the most important goals for the organization. Teams often have competing priorities. That can end up pulling them in different directions. Strong execution is about focus and being clear about things that matter more than others. It is about putting in disproportionate effort in areas that will deliver the greatest impact. At a tech conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook quoted: “We are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put tremendous energy behind the ones we do choose. The table each of you is sitting at today, you could probably put every product on it that Apple makes, yet

Apple’s revenue last year was $40 billion”. Very powerful words indeed. Superior execution starts with picking a few things and investing a greater level of your team’s energy and effort behind those. It results in staying on the clearly defined path to success defined by strategy. A sharp focus answers the question: What do you need to do to execute your strategy?

3. Capability - is used in the broadest sense of the term. It encompasses all the skills, systems, processes and tools a team uses to achieve its goals. The result is the ability to hit their targets. Building capable teams answers the question – How will you execute your strategy?

4. Measures for Success -  Putting in place clear measures, ideally those that can be looked at regularly help assess how you are doing against your goals. Generally, most teams look at lag measures. Those are certainly useful in outlining if you have achieved the goal. However, more importantly, defining lead measures is more powerful. These are measures that you can influence. They will tell you how likely you are to achieve the goals. It may be useful to put the lead and lag measures on some sort of visual scoreboard so that the team has a clear sense of where they are and where they should be. Measures of success help answer the question – How well are you executing?

5. Passion - instils a sense of connectedness. It creates a connection between people, a connection to our human need for meaningful work and a connection to each individual’s sense of value and contribution. In the most high-performing execution teams, motivation comes not just from the leader but also from team members. Igniting passion answers the question – Why are you executing your strategy?

Achieving execution excellence is not easy. It demands discipline, confidence and persistence. When you consistently do all of the above, gradually momentum builds, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of victory.

Bhavna Dalal
Bhavna Dalal

The views expressed in this article are not those of Fortune India.

The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.

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