Archives for posts with tag: Execution

A good while ago I wrote about how strategy and execution are joined at the hip, but that one tends to attract a higher consulting rate than the other. It’s hard to have one without the other. If you have little or no strategy and you execute like mad, you will have some success, but not as much as you might have hoped. If you don’t execute on a good strategy, you don’t really have anything.

I was reminded of this in a recent post by Tom Tunguz on the importance of execution. He referred to an HBR article from over three decades ago about ‘hustle’ – or the concept of getting it done – as the strategy. The central premise was – and still is – that it’s really hard to get competitive advantage, let alone sustain it, so you’re better off executing your plan better than everyone else.

I think a lot of people who work in areas where it’s hard to genuinely differentiate will identify with this approach. You still need to plan well, hire well and measure well, however.

Execution is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the growing companies from the struggling companies. It’s about following through, staying the course and closing the loop. You need to just do it, repeatedly.

Strategy and execution, as any good business school will tell you, are the Siamese twins of success. They both need each other, and they both need to keep each other close. One doesn’t work without the other. To strategise without executing is to do nothing, to put nothing into action. To execute without strategy is to ‘spray and pray’.

While the two exercises are equally valuable, in the consulting world they’re not deemed the same. Strategy work is the stuff that happens at the beginning and is of a relatively high value since the inputs directly affect the end result. Execution is following through on the decisions of the strategy, doing the work, putting the work out there and reviewing the results. It is perceived as of a lower value, since executing is basically doing what it’s been told to do by the strategy. A junior officer following the orders of a senior commanding officer if you like. Still a vitally important role.

This perception of value can have a direct effect on day rates and fees. From a consulting perspective, strategy is generally a collaborative exercise, at the customer’s premises and involving a number of people, where skills of facilitation and leadership come in. Execution can often be done on one’s own, from the home office, as it might involve building product, designing messaging, writing content, and putting together the communications assets to help deliver the message and transfer the information.

Indeed, you could almost say that strategy is consulting, whereas execution is about contracting. Strategy happens less often, and commands a higher price, whereas execution lasts for longer and involves more days’ work, but at a lower rate.

And this is the double-edged consulting sword of strategy and execution, as we strive to find the right balance between days in the saddle and fees coming in, between more stimulating work and less stimulating work, and between taking on work directly and delegating it to others.

How many of us strive towards perfection, aiming to do something perfectly? After all, if something not worth doing well, if’s not worth doing at all, as our parent and grandparents – the grafting generations, before it all got a bit too easy – used to tell us.

Can we do something perfectly? Can we put in a perfect performance, a perfect execution of a plan? Is perfect even attainable? Is it like a ghost, or a mirage, always out of reach? Should it even be something we strive for?

I know that if I ever do the perfect something, I’m never going to do any of it again. When I write the perfect press release, play the perfect game of footie or table tennis, deliver the perfect presentation, close the perfect sale, or deliver the perfect marketing campaign, I’m going to quit immediately, on the highest of highs, and never do one of them again.

I’ll quit when I produce the perfect something because I’ll never be able to do better. I’ll leave at the top, and not solider through the inevitable decline from my best, like so many people do.

I reckon I’ll be OK for a while though. Right now I’m not close to perfect in anything that I turn my head or hand to.

The title of this post should really be ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’, but that would send the wrong message entirely. There is a serious message to it believe me.

I don’t know about you, but I get ideas any time, any place. Ideas for things I need to buy, ideas for blog posts, business ideas, and so on. You have to strike while the iron’s hot. To prevent them from becoming simply a fleeting thought that I can’t possibly recall, I jot the idea down, sometimes with a few words of explanation, in case the title of the idea is too pithy or esoteric for me to get to the kernel of it.

I was telling my wife the other day that I needed to create a blog post. She recalled that I was driving an iea and asked her to put a couple of words into her phone’s notepad for me to use as inspiration later. When she pulled up the not, it simply said ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’. I know, me neither. It could have been autocorrected, but from what I simply have no idea. It’s gone, the fleeting thought has fleeted, for good.

Is this what it’s like to be a detective, trying to piece together from the tiniest of clues what happened in an event, what people were thinking and what caused them to behave the way they did? Tough gig.

If it were important enough, ike an idea for a great melody, it would have come back to me. But how many millions have been lost, or how different might the world be, and the things we take for granted, from fleeting thoughts that people never executed?

The ad agency that masterminds its own advertising campaign.

The consulting firm that follows its own methods to bring in work.

The childcare experts who raise their own children.

Sometimes it’s really hard practising what you preach. You stick too rigidly to the framework of best practices you advocate yourself. It takes you longer than it does for your customers because it has to be perfect. You have to get it right. You have to eat your own dog food and be the best at what you do because it’s what you’re also selling.

Of course, there are difficulties doing your own stuff. You’re too close to it for one thing. Also, the shift in perspective is always a revealing one. ‘This is the way I’m teaching this stuff, yet when I do it myself it’s hard.’ Or, ‘this is how I tell people to prospect for new business, why am I not following this practice myself?’

Then there is the criticism of those who say that ‘do as I say, not as a I do’ is a copout for those with lesser abilities than the people they’re coaching. I’m not sure this is valid. Even those who are the best at what they do look for coaches to give them that extra edge, regardless of whether the coach has been in the mentee’s shoes before.

Practising what you preach is useful for refining what you preach. Doesn’t make it any easier though.

Sometimes, in business and in life, you’re slightly ‘off your game’. You’re not quite there, you can’t put it together, the muscle and brain memory is not firing right for you. It’s a tough rut to get out of, without doing a reboot or calling it quits and sleeping on it.

In sport it’s easier to see when you’re slightly off your game, because it’s pretty binary. It’s either in or out, a hit or a miss. You either win the point or you lose it, win the match or lose it, pretty much.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was playing table tennis. I used to play competitively for many years and am currently getting back into it more regularly after a decade and a half on the side lines. The other day was one of those days when I was slightly off my game, and at a certain level of ability the margins are so small. The ball was clipping the edge of my bat a lot, rather than hitting the sweet spot, because my timing was slightly off and I couldn’t get either my conscious or subconscious mind co-ordinate the hundred or so muscles in quite the right way.

The ball was also missing the table by small margins, and hitting the top of the net a lot. With table tennis, the ball is maybe a quarter of the height of the net, so you get a lot of shots hitting the net cord, compared with tennis or badminton. When you’re sightly off your game, you hit the top of the net a lot, and the ball either comes back on your side, or dribbles over the other side, or else sits up for the other player to crush past you. Either way, it’s really hard for both players to establish any kind of rhythm.

A couple per cent degradation in your execution and the result is maybe 20% worse, easily the difference between winning comfortably and losing comfortably. Frustrating.

I know you either win a deal or lose it, and a lead either becomes an opportunity or it doesn’t, but business, projects and sales cycles feel a lot less binary to me. If you’re slightly off your game, you don’t necessarily get direct feedback from a prospect or customer. You don’t necessarily know that a specific campaign hasn’t converted a specific individual, or that your answer to a sales objection has been answered satisfactorily.

All you can do then is go back to the data and study the statistics over a larger number of similar circumstances rather than an isolated, specific interaction. And work hard all the time to reduce the occasions when you’re slightly off your game.

The other day I posted on Facebook a sentence lifted from a BBC sports report into a match featuring the professional soccer team I follow. The post went like this:

‘Story of the season, in fact story of most teams I’ve followed, ever: “Wolves were competitive throughout but lacked a cutting edge.”

A cutting edge is a wonderfully graphic phrase which has been so over-borrowed over the last decade that it now risks becoming a sporting cliche, along with ‘we’re taking it one game at a time,’ and many, many others.

It occurred to me at the time, and it still resonates with me now, which is why I’m telling you about it, that having a cutting edge is a vital requirement in so much of our working lives, especially in business. It’s no use being competitive if we lack a cutting edge. In other words, if we’re not executing on our plan, if we’re not getting it done.

I’m not talking about the kind of cutting edge or leading/bleeding edge you hear trotted out with technology companies. We’re on the cutting edge of nanotechnology. Purlease. Indeed, in that context it’s another phrase so well-worm as to be threadbare.

Lacking a cutting edge in sports and business means we’re not sharp, we’re blunt, unsophisticated, ham-fisted even.

So what gives you a cutting edge? Focus, practice, skill, anticipation, commitment and timing. These factors combine to allow you to capitalise, not capitulate, on opportunities.



You wouldn’t hire a marketer who was 30% efficient, would you? They don’t strike us as very efficient or effective.

Consider this though; as marketers we spend a lot of our time being creative, coming up with new ideas for a range of different things. We’re trying to stand out, to be different, and that takes effort.

We might spend some time putting together a proposal for something, only for it not to be selected by our line manager, for a host of reasons. Then it might get through the first gate and so we spend time – and sometimes money on a third party – developing the idea and finalising it for sign-off by the budget-holder. Sometimes the budget-holder might dismiss it out of hand, in which case the effort is gone. Or, they might ask for a few changes, and because they’re super-busy the revised version might languish in their inbox for a while, by which time we and they have moved onto other things. If enough time has elapsed, and we get back to it, the business has moved on and it needs extensive re-work. This is how it is working for a business of any size with lots of interconnected priorities and resources.

When I worked in an agency, we would be commissioned to come up with a campaign. We would brainstorm a bunch of ideas, work up the 3 or 4 best ideas, and present them. Only 1 idea was selected, or sometimes elements of a couple of them. You could argue that the other 75% of the effort was wasted, except that it wasn’t because it was part of the creative process that enabled us to get to the best solution.

I used to feel that when I was a marketing employee about 70% of my output did not end up being put to wealth-generating use. The other 30% was. This is the natural, organic nature of things in a business. It’s not unusual. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t strive to improve the ratio of successful to unsuccessful output.

As a consultant, I find the efficiency rate is good bit higher, perhaps because I’m better at what I do now, and perhaps because a company is more careful with the time it spends with external suppliers, and more profligate and cavalier with its own staff’s time.

When you think about it, then, the 30% efficient marketer is a lot better than we first thought.

A well organised, well prepared team will always beat a disorganised, unprepared team with a few stellar players. We’ve all seen it, from amateur teams all the way through to the elite professional levels. The world-beating teams are there because of their painstaking approach to preparation, strategy and execution, and having stellar players doesn’t hurt.

I was recently watching the BBC annual sports love-in called Sports Personality of the Year. It’s not really about personality as such, although you do get the odd winner with personality, like cyclist Bradley Wiggins a few years ago. Last year’s winner was tennis player Andy Murray, who freely admits he’s a touch short-changed on the charisma front and who gets tagged a lot with the d-words: dogged, dour, determined.

Except that Andy Murray beat out the other 11 finalists – who were all world champions and world number ones – to take the crown.  Andy is at the time of writing world number 2 but won no grand slams or the end of year bash last year. He won it principally because Great Britain won the Davis Cup for the first time in about a thousand years. As a side note, thank goodness it’s a Britain thing, because England would be in the bottom tier if the 3 nations competed separately.

The Great Britain team also won the team award as well.

A good team trumps good individuals. It’s the same in business, and especially in sales and marketing. All the more reason for us to stay focused on preparation, strategy and execution.

Question: Why go to a consultant rather than someone in your company to get something important done?

There are myriad reasons, but the 3 I like and the 3 where I feel people like me can add value are these:

1) Specialised experience. You pay for experience in the field where you need help, because a consultant’s experience allows them to know which corners you can cut to execute quickly and save time.

2) Hard-nosed practicality. Consultants know what works and what doesn’t work. The practical, workable solution gets the job done.

3) Laser-like responsiveness. A good consultant knows that you went with them because they are free from any internal company politics or distractions and because they can deliver.

These 3 reasons are the ones we stand behind at M4 Marketing, which is my consulting practice. Together, they add up to what I think is a compelling offering, namely accelerating a company’s time to market for any important project.

Answer: You should go to a consultant because you want to get something important done.