A funny thing happened on the way to the new economy, the place where only ideas would matter and everything else would become a commodity. It turns out that by themselves, ideas are basically worthless. You need to turn them into reality. In other words, whether you are in the new economy or the old, you need to execute. Most senior managers, including CIOs, don't execute well, says Lawrence A. Bossidy, Chairman and CEO of Honeywell International Inc. Bossidy has seen the problem time and time again during his 40-plus years in business. From his earliest days in the financial management training program at General Electric Co. Through his rise to the top ranks—he was vice chairman before leaving in 1991 to run Alliedsignal Inc., where, during his tenure, earnings per share rose at least 13 percent for 31 consecutive quarters—Bossidy has seen bright, technically capable managers who just couldn't do their jobs effectively. The most frequent problem? Poor execution—or none at all. What does it mean to execute? That's simple, says the 66-year-old Bossidy, who guided Alliedsignal through its December 1999 merger with Honeywell, retired four months later, then came out of retirement in July 2001 to return to Honeywell. Execution is the ability to mesh strategy with reality, align people with goals and achieve the promised results. Here, in a conversation with Paul B. Brown, Bossidy expands on the ideas contained in his book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (coauthored with Ram Charan), which was published this month by Crown Business.
My job at Honeywell International these days is to restore the discipline of execution to a company that had lost it. Many people regard execution as detail work that's beneath the dignity of a true business leader, be he the CEO, the CFO, the CIO or the head of a business unit. That's wrong. To the contrary, it's a leader's most important job.
Oh, I understand why most leaders—and again I am definitely including the company's CIO in that category—don't want to do it. At the end of the day, what would you rather do, tell your spouse you got your hands dirty with the details, or that you thought great thoughts? Saying you get involved in the details makes it sound as if you do almost menial work, and who wants to admit they do menial work? Too many CIOs think that if they say they've been involved in tactical issues all day, it somehow means they are presenting themselves as economic morons.
But most often today, the difference between a company and its competitors is the ability to execute. This is the great unaddressed issue in business today. Its absence is the biggest obstacle to success and the cause of the most disappointments—disappointments that are mistakenly attributed to other causes. So execution is key, and many CIOs are not very good at it. They are no different than other managers in this regard.
Our CIO reports to me, and I hold him to the same standards as my other direct reports. You don't want the CIO ducking under the financial guy, or the engineering guy. If it's an important enough part of your business, then they should report to the CEO. I hold our CIO to the same standards as the rest of our senior managers and, as I said, many CIOs, like many managers, are not very good at execution.
Why? In part, because they think execution is something they can delegate. And if they are involved, they believe it is a one-time thing. All they have to do is execute the task at hand. That is wrong. Your job as the head of a department such as IT is to put tools and systems in place so that getting things done becomes a part of the culture. You need to identify, reward and promote people for getting things done, as opposed to being a philosopher, a conceptual genius or a master of the technology. Knowing the strategy and the technology are important, of course, but if you can't execute, ultimately your organization is going to fail.
CIOs have become critical to the operation and the enterprise. (That's why, by the way, they report to the CEO.) So they especially need to concentrate on execution. When they fall short, it is always for the same reasons: The project is late and comes in over budget. When they miss, they miss because they're late on software. They overestimated how quickly they could develop the software, or they overestimated how quickly they could put in a new system.
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