Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's the Execution...Stupid

Dan McCarthy in his blog, Great Leadership, pointed me to the latest issue of Fortune magazine and the cover story on "The Best Advice I Ever Got." Among the business leader comments that he highlighted, this gem from Mark Hurd at Hewlett-Packard stood out to me:

Nine years after starting at NCR, I moved to a head-office job in Dayton in 1988. An NCR executive was giving a presentation; he had great slides and an even better delivery. The CEO, Chuck Exley, listened to the entire presentation in his typically gracious, courteous manner. At the conclusion, he nodded and said something brief but profound: "Good story, but it's hard to look smart with bad numbers." And as I reflected on it, the presenter, articulate as he was, as good as his slides were, simply had bad numbers. That comment has always stayed with me. You have to focus on the underlying substance. There's just no way to disguise poor performance. I've tried to follow that advice throughout my career. Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you.

What a great reminder to me that it is not the delivery of comments that make our product great but the delivery of product that makes our comments great! It's about the bottom line. It's the execution, stupid!

Too often I get caught up in things that don't matter. My calendar does not reflect my priorities. My conversations are about everything other than what helps us accomplish the mission. I'm not focused on performance. I forget that if I don't execute, it does not matter what else I say or do.

Sometimes I need to hear comments like this. I consider myself a good speaker. My presentations are usually pretty solid. But if I want people to hear what I have to say -- I better be able to back it up. I had better be obsessive about execution. I better spring out of bed and act as if my competition was breathing down my neck. I better have a sense of urgency about delivering on promises and about finishing projects -- on time, under budget, etc.

"Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you." That's Leader Business.


Sridhar Peddisetty said...

Please accept my appreciation for this post. It has been one of the better posts I read in a long time

Sridhar Peddisetty, PMP, CSM

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sridhar. And thanks for the feedback. Stay in touch. TM

StaticFix said...

I really agree with your point on backing up scores to comments, nice blog.

Steve Harper said...

Fantastic post always. Keep up the inspiring and amazing work that you are doing.

Sorry about not reaching back out to you to follow up on our phone chat. My last two weeks have been crazy, crazy! What about early next week?

Ripple On My Brother!


Tom Magness said...

Thanks for the feedback, static! We can't be all talk. Like you say, we need to back it up. Hooah! TM

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for stopping by. You are my (blogger) mentor. I'd welcome any chance to connect, my friend! Hooah! TM

James T. Parsons said...

I may be off the reservation on the below point, and I DEFINITELY agree with your point. However, I think the execution can be impacted by the ability of a leader to rally his troups despite the numbers/prior execution.

I often see leadership the way a sports coach leads his team on the field. If at half-time the stats are bad for an otherwise good team, the coach can't rail on the team too badly - less he fail to inspire them for the second half. A pep talk has to be accurate, and should not discount the numbers or the prior execution, but it also has to be focused on the future - toward hope and better execution (which until it occurs is talk).

I definitely think there has to be a balance between pep/talk and execution, I also think that people don't follow numbers or stats, they follow people/leaders who inspire them. Maybe it is something like 60% execution, and 40% inspiration, but I think the inspirational can't be discounted either.

One of the moments in film I like is from Braveheart, when Wallace is addressing the Scotsmen in the face of overwhelming numbers of English. Did his men need stats of the overwhelming forces of the English army - or inspiration? "They may take our lives, but they can never take ... our freedom!"

For what it is worth, Tom, I think you are a pretty good master of both execution and inspiration!


Tom Magness said...


You are so right. You must have both. But I think we find disappointment from leaders who are all inspiration and don't have the numbers (or the drive, determination, or energy) to back it up! The best leaders may be those who inspire simply by saying, "Follow me! I will take you to the Promise Land!" And then they deliver. Hooah! Thanks for inspiring me, my friend! TM