What's the first lesson a new manager learns the hard way?
It's Not What You Say . . . It's What You Do: How Following Through at Every Level Can Make or Break Your Company
By Laurence Haughton
Doubleday/Currency, December 2004
256 pages, $24.95
What's the first lesson a new manager learns the hard way? Just because you tell someone to do something doesn't mean it's going to get done.
And while Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan hammered home the point that you need to see an idea through to the finish in their best-selling Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, exactly how you're supposed to do that remained fuzzy. (The Bossidy-Charan sequel, Confronting Reality, didn't help matters. It focused on how you figure out what to do, not how to do it.)
In his new book, Laurence Haughton, author of It's Not the Big That Eat the Small . . . It's the Fast That Eat the Slow, has set out to make execution simpler. To consultant Haughton, four discrete steps are required to execute efficiently:
1. Be clear about what you want to accomplish. You don't want to be vague and confusing, but you could be because you don't take enough time to explain what needs to be done, or you don't check to see if what you're saying is what they're hearing. And if things start to go off track, don't immediately assume the strategy was wrong. Double-check to see that everyone knew initially what was supposed to be done.
2. Match people to the task at hand. Will the job call for a lot of problem-solving, or does it require going by the book? Will people be operating on their own, or under constant supervision? Are there likely to be many obstacles, or will it be smooth sailing? Ask yourself these questions up front, says Haughton, and staff accordingly. He also argues that people's attitudes—how badly they want to tackle the task at hand—is at least as important as their experience.
3. Make sure they buy in. Unless employees understand the importance of the task, and want to accomplish it, there is little chance anything will get done. To overcome resistance, Haughton recommends launching the initiative with a lot of hoopla, following through immediately to sustain momentum, appointing people at all levels of the organization to keep things on track, and singling out those doing the best job to send the message that management is watching closely.
4. Keep them fired up. Even the most enthusiastic team members can lose heart when tasks take longer than expected, or they encounter obstacles. To ensure people stay engaged, Haughton says, make sure they "own" the initiative. How? Share information, push authority as far down the ranks as possible, and encourage disagreement to make sure the best ideas surface.
The book has its flaws. Haughton has done some of his own reporting, but he relies heavily on previous studies and other works, not all of them exactly on point.
More troubling, he makes it all sound so darn effortless: Lay out the objective, follow the four steps, and Nirvana is assured. If it were that simple, managers wouldn't need a book on execution. Still, Haughton's template can make your life a bit easier.
Paul B. Brown is the author of numerous business books, including Publishing Confidential: The Insider's Guide to What It Really Takes to Land a Nonfiction Book Deal, published by Amacom.