Strategy Defines Companies. Execution Is Where the Magic Happens

poorly executed flying pig

Your simplest path to success could be prioritizing execution.

That reflection and this quote from Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan,  set the tone for our recent thoughts:

“Strategies most often fail because they aren’t executed well. Things that are supposed to happen don’t happen.”

In our experience, a great strategy that struggles with execution is still a failure. Leadership has to set direction and the expectations to get this right. That’s a lesson many startups overlook because strategy is glamorous and exciting; execution feels mundane and uninteresting. Getting stuck with that perception is a recipe for disappointment.

Now, let’s get into the meat of why and how that’s true.

Rushing Before You Know Where to Go

Many startups focus on rushing to market and sharing their great idea before implementing the plan to distinguish it. Before having a way for people to find and use that idea. They often skip out the challenging work of defining their category and market and then building a compelling message.


We’ve found that people often put execution in a tactical/task-oriented bucket. Treating it as something for leaders to delegate while they focus on “bigger” issues. They often miss that execution is a discipline and specific set of behaviors and techniques. Companies must master these to secure and maintain a competitive advantage.

Making it a set of tasks without the accompanying mindset can be dangerous for your company. It means you can miss out on defining how you plan and measure success as well as how you innovate.

Execution Must Be Part of the Culture

At GrowthShift, we stress that execution needs to be built into a company’s culture and embraced by leadership. Without making execution part of your culture, your company could miss a market window. And it starts at the top. Leaders set the tone and model behaviors for teams to emulate.

It’s imperative you adopt a culture of execution as part of your winning formula. You’ll be positioned to keep your company and products top of mind with target customers, partners, and market influencers. Strategy can be the ‘hard stuff’ to conceptualize, but execution is where the magic is! Mark the hard stuff work with great execution and you potentially pull away from the competition. 

Not everything is going to go as planned. But, when execution is part of the culture, you’ll ensure the right people and processes are in place to anticipate and address any issue.

Laying the Foundation Starts with People

Perhaps the most essential element to ensure proper execution is defining the “who.”

You need the right team with goals and objectives, plus a bright guiding light, for success. The eminent Jack Welch says that this leadership style is all about “getting the right people in the right places and then helping them to thrive.”

When you look at execution and try to define the right team, 5 simple questions can help:

  1. Who is going to do what work?
  2. Who is going to write down what is decided?
  3. Who is going to assign tasks?
  4. Who is responsible for keeping things on track?
  5. Who will provide the guidance and leadership they need to succeed?

They’re relatively straightforward questions, but ones that absolutely need to be asked and answered for every element of your execution plan. These responses let you know how you’ll execute and make it possible to audit success for long-term goals. It’s how you will determine how your brand finishes the race, not just the first few steps.

Yes, we’re big on asking questions, the right questions, the hard questions. And answering these questions improves your probability of success! 

Embrace the Era of Results-Based Marketing

No execution plan is complete without a system for measurement. Marketing is not a soft science, yet it often gets a ‘bad rap.’ Stop hoping for the Don Draper moment of inspiration and see the truth that return on marketing investment (ROMI) is a thing and something you need to build into systems.

Make marketing measurable.

We’re sure it’s been called by different names and addressed in different ways, but at the heart of the GrowthShift execution strategy is RBM: results-based marketing. Give your team goals to strive for and systems to measure results. Get specific on deliverables, results, and KPIs.

And then measure – innovate – repeat!

Measurement will not only reveal whether you’re telling the right story to the people who matter most but how you have executed on that story and message. The secret to RBM is that you must define results and success ahead of marketing and launch efforts. Look at what’s realistic and create a plan to match and meet expectations.

A Note on Good RBM

Here’s one thing to remember: good results-based marketing isn’t lead gen. Think more broadly; are you influencing market perceptions, partnerships, and creating the narrative for your position within an industry.

When companies focus entirely on lead-gen, they may miss the more significant discussion about their brand in the market and how they’re perceived. Albeit, more challenging, but it is still possible to establish barometers for market perception: blog readership, search ranking, visibility across the different communication channels, and more. 

Whether it’s working with GrowthShift or working internally, your marketing isn’t just a lead-gen operation. Your efforts are a part of the business strategy that helps you create a long-term position that is valued by customers and investors alike.

You don’t stop executing when the pipeline is full. Think more broadly.

A Piece of Advice for the COVID World and Beyond

The coronavirus pandemic is on everyone’s mind, and we are profoundly sensitive to the challenges it has created. Noise levels are high; fear is even higher. All of which changes how customers and markets respond. In this time of uncertainty, the role of the leader has never been more critical. Demonstrating empathy, acknowledging teams, serving customers, and taking time to think and clear your mind.

Sit in a favorite chair with your email turned off. Go for a walk without your phone. Turn off the noise and enjoy the silence. Give yourself time to think, free from distractions. There is value and importance in solitude, in stillness.

Whether you like 4-Star Marine Corps General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis or not, he’s got a great perspective on this need:

“If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the information age, it’s lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”

Yes, there are countless studies about the science and psychology of taking a break, how it improves work, and how this improves when you schedule those breaks.

So, plan for your execution, get the right people on the bus – to use a Jim Collins phrase – and give it your entire focus. Then, plan thinking breaks each week so you can come back fresh and ready, again and again.