CEOs Must Be Able To Execute Their Plans

The job of business leaders and all successful C-level executives is to lead and drive the organization to the next level. Among other things, the process must have clear goals, real focus, high energy, time management skills, and good people, along with great strategies.

So now you’ve created your well-thought-out (great) strategies and put them in writing. Okay, now who is going to make this happen and how? The best plan in the world is useless unless executed properly. 

When companies fail, people blame the CEO’s strategies, but often the problem was the execution of the strategies that failed. This starts with the CEO being there (in labor costing meetings, financial meetings, HR meetings, staff meetings, etc.) elevating the expectations, and setting the example (or at least driving it) by creating a sense of urgency and accountability.

Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution. Naveen Jain said, “A great strategy alone won’t win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling” all out in the field!

CEOs can get caught up in the trap of denigrating the execution part of the success equation and trying to delegate it. That can be disastrous. Effective leaders must lead from the front. So, truly “execution is the dirty little secret.”

How much would you agree with George Patton who said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”? To a degree, this should be the dictum. Building a visionary company requires 10 percent vision and 90 percent alignment. A strategy, even a great one, doesn’t implement itself. Strategy execution is the responsibility that makes or breaks executives. Leaders get the behavior that they exhibit and tolerate, and this creates the culture of a company. 

Surrounding yourself with the right people in the right places is also critically important for consistent execution.

The right people:
• Have the right attitudes and the right skills (consider using a profiling instrument in hiring and developing the team). I’ve used the Birkman throughout four decades and provide these now to my clients. But there are other evaluation instruments available as well.
• Energize others (not just pep talks) and focus on down-to-earth, short-term accomplishments that make up a winning overall strategy.
• Are decisive on tough issues (make the best decisions with the information available, and move on).
• Get things done through others (not micromanagement) by setting clear milestones and following up and following up.
• Follow through and never finish a meeting without clarifying what the action items will be. And they never launch an initiative unless they are committed to seeing it through until it becomes a best practice.
• Know how to prioritize and how to manage their time. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out,” says Stephen Covey.
• Focus on and value results by driving and setting goals and metrics, and by creating a productive culture. 
• Truly know their people and their business. A good leader lives their business.
• Reward the doers (pay for results, not just activities).

Execution means focusing on value and results, setting goals and metrics and creating a positive, productive culture. Execution in general sounds simple. It’s like golf: simple but not easy.

The technique: Follow up properly. Monitor and measure in writing. Set deadlines. Provide the necessary support. It’s a discipline and a choice.

Once again, leaders get the behavior that they exhibit and tolerate, and this creates the culture of the company. Strategies don’t implement themselves. Execution is the responsibility that makes or breaks executives.

“Plan your work, and then work your plan.”
Barney Gershen is the owner and CEO of Gershen Consulting LLC, which consults with leaders in our industry across the country. He successfully sold the ABS Companies in 2005. You can visit his website at or call him in Houston at 713-839-1990.