A key characteristic of strong leadership is the ability to execute well. At its core, execution simply means to bring something to a successful conclusion. Effective execution is a key determinant of a business success or failure. We invited Lawrence Lubrano, Chief Operating Officer at Stephens & Associates, Inc. to share his thoughts on this important topic.
In his role as Chief Operating Officer, Lawrence is responsible for global operations, quality assurance, sales and marketing, information technology and corporate administration. Prior to joining Stephens & Associates, Lawrence worked for 25 years in client services, most recently as an executive within PFSweb, a global commerce services company. Prior to that Lawrence served at Accenture Consulting, providing consulting for clients in the consumer products sector. Lawrence earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree and a Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University.
ExcelTrek: How do you define effective execution in the workplace?
Lawrence Lubrano: At a broader level, it is about the ability to effectively fulfil an organization’s strategic agenda. At a tactical level, it is about the ability of individuals and/or teams to effectively and collaboratively deliver a task or series of tasks.
ExcelTrek: What gets in the way of effective execution?
Lubrano: First, individuals or teams who fail at execution many times don’t really understand the nature of the task or their role in executing the task. As leaders, we sometimes assume that what we need from a person or a team is clearly defined when reality many times tells us otherwise. Leaders need to take time to bring clarity to what needs to be done and how each player’s role fits into the solution.
Second, I think people fall short on a task if they do not feel fully empowered to execute what is needed. Even if we have defined the problem and roles for each team member, we limit the outcome if we don’t empower the team to make decisions. The bottom line is that if you ensure that your team knows their roles and has full empowerment to execute on them, more likely than not, you will see effective execution.
ExcelTrek: What are the key elements of strong execution?
Lubrano: People with solid execution skills generally exhibit strong ownership. Ownership means taking full responsibility for the task at hand. It doesn’t always mean that a person knows all the answers, but a strong owner will escalate issues as needed. So, ownership of the problem or task is key to strong execution.
Another element of strong execution is having a clear vision. One has to be focused on the present task while simultaneously understanding the full picture and anticipating the next steps of the task.
Finally, focus is also a key factor. Focus allows one to pick out the important information and act on it accordingly, while not getting distracted by irrelevant information. Execution is about getting a task done or a problem solved. People with strong execution capabilities take full ownership, keep a balanced view of the landscape around them and maintain focus on what’s important to accomplish the goal.
ExcelTrek: What is the proper balance between strategy and execution?
Lubrano: Strategy ought to be defined in advance with clear focus and deliberation on the overall direction and priorities of the organization. It is critically important that the team understands well the strategy driving the execution plan.
Execution is typically based upon a more granular (tactical) plan in alignment with the overall strategy. The “simple” formula is to set strategy and communicate it clearly. Then build execution plans that support the strategy.
ExcelTrek: What leadership qualities are essential to foster a strong execution mindset?
Lubrano: I see three imperative qualities. First, leaders need to be effective communicators. They must clearly articulate the strategy, the execution plan and the role that each team member must play.
Second, leaders must be good listeners. Effective listening will help leaders identify where the plan may be failing and where course correction is needed. This inherently means that leaders must also be humble to accept when the strategy or plan needs to change.
Finally, leaders need to be good readers of talent. The best outcome always comes from having the people with the right skills for what is required. Great leaders are very good at assessing people and deploying them in roles best suited to fully utilize their skills.
Fred Machado is the founder and CEO of ExcelTrek.