Mind the Execution Gap

Feb. 10, 2011
Strategy is important, but getting it done is what really matters.

"If an organization can't get things done, nothing else matters -- not the smartest strategy, not the most innovative business model, not even game-changing technology," says Rick Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting and author of "Closing the Execution Gap: How Great Leaders and Their Companies Get Results."

But getting things done is a serious problem for many companies, according to a study of more than 400 companies conducted by OnPoint Consulting. The study found 49% of the leaders surveyed reported a gap between their organization's ability to formulate and communicate a vision and strategy and its ability to deliver results. Moreover, only 36% of the leaders who thought their company had an execution gap had confidence in their organization's ability to close the gap between strategy and execution.

Lepsinger points to five characteristics, which he calls "The Five Bridges," that enable people to execute successfully. They are:

  • Employee involvement in decision-making
  • Companywide coordination and cooperation
  • Alignment between leader actions and company values and priorities
  • A structure that supports execution
  • The ability to manage change

Toyota is one of the companies cited by Lepsinger as suffering an execution gap because of its recalls of millions of cars. He says the company's decentralized structure, which served it well for many years, turned into a liability as the company continued to grow.

"For example, some of Toyota's former U.S. senior executives believe that keeping the U.S. operations separated in a functional structure -- rather than reporting to a single headquarters -- forced each to report back to Japan," he says. "This required customer complaints to first make their way through the U.S. operation and then over to Japan where they were reviewed by a special committee -- which would then have to communicate back to the U.S. All this had to happen before a recall could be issued."

The lesson of the Toyota breakdown, says Lepsinger: The five execution bridges are not permanent but quite fragile. "Once you've built them, you must keep vigilant watch over them and work hard to maintain them over time."

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