Why Is It So Hard to Execute?

Why is it so hard to Execute?

Ok, we all know that, compared to execution, creating the strategic plan is cake.  So why is executing so darn hard?  This a huge issue and given our economic situation, it's even more critical (remember the adage, I'd rather have a B plan with A execution than an A plan with B execution?)

So why is this so hard - well, not sure how wired our brains are for execution in the first place.  As humans, we tend to focus on the here and now - the present - the crisis du jour, what's in front of us, the day to day.  It's harder to focus on the longer-term that is a bit less ‘tangible' and more ‘abstract'.  Let's face it, how many of us keep New Year's resolutions?  Perhaps it's just how we are.  But, that's no excuse, is it!

In my experience at AT&T, a few startups I was involved in, and of course my terrific clients, lack of execution boils down to, yup, CULTURE! In looking back, there usually wasn't an Execution-Oriented Culture.  Why? There are lots of reasons but one I see a lot, as strange as this may sound, is a underlying lack of confidence that they can really execute - the rationale includes the lack of certain skills, lack of more information, lack of confidence the plan is right in the first place - second-guessing - mostly themselves vs. the outside world.  The "We don't have what it takes to make this happen" is usually based on no history or habit of execution.  Senior management doesn't have a good track record; there's no budget, money, resources (by the way, budget follows the strategy; now economic situations may change, and if so, then you need to revisit the strategies and tactics and change them for the changed world)

So how does this cultural ‘deficit' happen? The usual ways.  There isn't clear ownership for execution overall and pieces and parts - and I'd bet that there isn't a clear sense of accountability in lots of areas in the organization, so why should this be different? Also, let's face it, people's natural tendency is to resist change (lots of research in this area).  In order to overcome this, get people involved, get their buy in - by participating in the planning, by management communicating (over and over and over) the need for the strategic direction and showing employees how they can help and support the plan and what it means for them.

What happens if you don't execute? Well, you know the rest.  The point is, while execution is hard, it's not impossible, it's not insurmountable and in fact it can become a habit that creates collaboration, increases teamwork, and in fact, increases innovation (no, that's not an oxymoron).

What have you seen as the biggest obstacles to execution?