Mastering the art of getting things done


Great leaders are known by their ruthless focus on ‘getting things done’ through an artful alchemy of people, planning and process.

Execution separates great companies from the mediocre. It is a science and a discipline. There are three key parts to execution – people, strategy and operations. Most companies get the people and strategy right but miss out on the operational elements of execution. One can apply these elements to any execution topic – from launching a spaceship to managing sales or managing a football team with great outcomes.

There are three critical pillars of execution.

Right people at the right place

Before starting any project or initiative, it is important to have a meticulous look at the team. Always use the following guidelines while staffing the team for initiatives or projects:

  • Always build the team top down. Don’t hire frontline before hiring middle management. Don’t hire middle management before hiring leadership or senior team.
  • Hire the very best for the role. Don’t settle for less. It’s difficult to change the team mid-way. Always define the ideal team scenario and role profiles that are not restricted by your ability to hire or short-term resource constraints.
  • Always remember a team of 11 ballers or 11 batsmen is not a great team. You need a great mix of skills. Do not get carried away by the star power of the team. Hire for relevance to your project or initiative.
  • Do not take any shortcuts. If you think the team needs to be co-located make sure it is (spread out teams in that case won’t work). Always think ‘team’, not ‘individuals’.
  • Allocate resources based on interest/intrinsic motivation to the roles and do not force fit.

 Getting the right plan

It’s always great to have a detailed ‘what to do’ plan. This is an easier problem to solve for. Many a times, it is possible that we’d not be able to build a detailed strategic plan. It is good to start with the following minimum things:

  • Clear vision, end-state and how the success of the work will be measured (fitness test, goal, impact).
  • 90-180 days agenda of things to be done.
  • An initiative list to begin with, or charter, with impact and a sense of prioritisation.
  • An alignment within the entire team that if things are done as per the strategic plan then we’d get closer to our end goal.
  • The plan should not be over ambitious or underwhelming. It should have the right stretch and aspirations (doable).
  • If the team is good, then the plan will iterate every week – few things will get added or removed naturally. For an idea undergoing first time execution it is possible several plan iterations are required. A great team will seamlessly do it and keep refining the plan.

 Disciplined operations machinery

This is the most critical element of execution. It requires active participation from leaders and disciplined ‘doing’ by the team. This is usually where teams fumble or lose track. A great leader’s biggest asset is a disciplined operations machinery. He or she knows how to get things done and adheres to the following principles:

  • A great execution leader is an ‘active participant’ in execution. He is always doing things himself while guiding others. Many a times, leaders think it is beneath them to execute and just get to ‘presiding’ or ‘authority’ and lose the track of execution.
  • They inspire and bring the right people to the right agenda. But more importantly review and follow up to keep everyone honest to the execution agenda. The discipline of ‘follow up’ is added in equal measure to the energy of ‘inspiring call for action’ to get things done.
  • They recognise great executioners/doers and highlight it across the team to raise the bar.
  • They keep questioning the ‘how’ of getting the execution right and keep tinkering with ‘people’ or ‘process’ elements to get things done.
  • Deep inquisitive and probing questions also get them to the underlying mindsets and behaviours of people that will motivate them to execute.
  • They believe in ‘empathetic’ execution and put themselves in the shoes of the execution teams to see what environment of people, process and technology will lead to results.
  • They measure everything meticulously and track progress.
  • They realise that the job of the coach is not just to trade good players but actively immerse in the game and coach the players.
  • They are always on and operate at the depth of 30,000 feet.
  • They gain respect of ‘great team members’ through depth of insights and knowledge and not just through inspirational or motivational talks.

Eighty percent of execution is in the discipline of operationalising the plans. The plans can keep changing over time with more insights but once a great execution culture is built, the teams can deliver any agenda. Great leaders are known by their ruthless focus on ‘getting things done’ through an artful alchemy of people, planning and process.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)