Thomas Edison had such wise words…. “Vision without execution is just a hallucination”. It hits home with so many of our clients. Let us at MCDA help you build your plan and train your team to execute your vision into a reality.
A great vision is the table stakes for building a valuable business. A great vision:
- Is clear, concise, and understandable to a broad constituency
- Is inspiring and motivational to those that are trying to execute on it, or buy into it (e.g.: customers, partners, consumers, etc.)
But to move from hallucination to reality, requires hard-nosed execution.
The keys to effective execution include:
Clear plan and objectives
The WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHO and WHEN
Great execution starts with a plan. The plan sets the stage with strategy (the why, if you will), then lays out the objectives (the what), and then the required steps and actions (the how), to be carried out by the respective team members (the who), and the timeframe in which the actions should be accomplished (the when). Like the vision, it needs to be clear. Unlike the vision, it needs to be as comprehensive as possible, with a robust appreciation of the risks and challenges, and well thought-out “plan B’s” for all the major risk points or hurdles.
There are many tried and true frameworks and strategies that can help leaders design a great plan that sets them up for successful execution, but in my opinion, one of the most effective of these frameworks (as proven by several of our portfolio companies), is the True North model. I’ve also always been a fan of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis as a key preparation exercise heading into a planning process. A brief note on SWOT –clients will often get confused between the first two and the second two and struggle a bit with the differences. Strengths and Weaknesses are internally focused; Opportunities and Threats are externally focused.
As to objectives, it’s imperative that the objectives be relevant, meaningful, unambiguous and very very measurable. I can’t stress measurable enough! KPI’s are a great tool for measuring, we can get into that in another discussion.
Once a clear executable plan with properly aligned resources and capital is in place, focus becomes paramount. More startups go astray by either losing their focus on the plan and objectives, chasing down distracting shiny new objects, or by getting caught up in details and losing sight of the overall objectives and outcomes. Maintaining focus, along with building a great team, and raising capital, are probably the three most important jobs of an early stage entrepreneur/CEO, after the vision and plan are set.
Common techniques for maintaining focus are to post the key objectives and milestones publicly; to review the milestones at the start of all-hands meetings; to tie bonus or variable compensation to their achievement; and often overlooked but perhaps most importantly of all, to explicitly state WHY those milestones are important. People are far more willing to chase audacious goals, to achieve extraordinary results, and to make the sacrifices necessary to deliver ground-breaking outcomes when they understand why the goals matter. Explaining “why” may be the most important thing you can do to achieve buy-in and co-ownership of the goals. Get your employees to buy-in to you as a leader, you are the drumbeat of success.
Whether it’s The New York Yankees or The 12 year old Yorba Linda Colts, extraordinary effort is required to get to the top and deliver a stand-out performance. Explaining “why” is an important element of building a motivated team. So is shared sacrifice. Even though most of my work as CEO has to be done between 7am and 7pm, I have played many a 10pm soccer games or improvised whiffle ball games with staff who needed to blow off some steam as they pulled an all-nighter to crank out a client project. And with shared sacrifice must come shared success and victories, and shared rewards (a key reason stock options have been so instrumental to Silicon Valley’s success).
Celebrating wins company-wide, whether in client development, sales, customer success, etc., was a key element of keeping the team motivated at my last business. So was personalizing the customer, through internally published success stories, customer logos prominently displayed on the reception area walls, even notations of which new customer brought us that week’s paycheck. And there is nothing like a common enemy to motivate the competitive juices of the team – never underestimate the value of a common foe, even if it is semi-manufactured.
Measurable Intermediate Milestones
These intermediate stakes or flags in the ground are a crucial tool to maintain focus and pace. It’s hard to keep focus or feel a sense of urgency when milestones are many months or quarters out. Intermediate milestones give you a measuring stick and a goal toward which to sprint that is within easy sight and distance.
They also give you an early-warning indicator to know where you are in the journey and if you are ahead or behind the desired pace. It’s much easier, much less stressful, and significantly less costly to adjust and correct early in the journey.
We can help you build those tools and measurable stakes during our journey together.
Proper Capitalization and Creative Resource Guarding
Make no mistake – early stage capital is brutally expensive. You don’t want to take a penny more than you need to reach your next major value inflection point in the business. At the same time, you do not want to come up short, as that can be even more expensive. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s what an entrepreneur must learn how to do. In all cases, there must be enough capital to get the plan done.
Resource guarding is a term dog trainers use to describe a dog that isn’t friendly to other dogs or people when its food or toys are approached or threatened. Good entrepreneurs need to be like that snarling dog; you paid a dear price for that capital. Guard it viciously; make sure every penny is spent wisely; and only utilize it on your execution of the plan and objectives.
I’ll end this post with a quote from one of the great business leaders of the last few decades: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
Is your brain spinning with ideas? Give us a call or shoot us a message we are always here to help. I am always open to answering questions personally through email. Let me help guide you on the path of success.