A quote that ranks right up there with the best of Voltaire and Montaigne is the late Coach John McKay’s famous response when a reporter asked him, after another Tampa Bay Buccaneer loss, what he thought of his team’s execution. Said McKay, with a straight face, “I think it’s a good idea.”
Of course, when McKay spoke those now-famous words, his team was in the midst of the longest losing streak in NFL history — twenty-six games! I’ve never suffered through twenty-six straight losses at anything, but I must admit that I have long favored execution for those who fail to execute.
Why would a gentle soul like me be so harsh when it comes to people who fail to execute? Call it a pet peeve … or a fetish … or just a lack of tolerance. All I know is that for anyone who actually cares about his/her work, the most unpleasant aspect of daily business is dealing with people who act as though they’re sleepwalking.
Execution involves three distinct areas:
- Sense of urgency
- Attention to detail
Sense of Urgency
One of the signs of a true entrepreneur is an ever-present sense of urgency. A lot of people take umbrage with this, because it gets in the way of their evening sitcoms and weekend barbeques. People who want things done sooner rather than later irritate them no end.
Nothing bugs me more than the use of the future tense when it comes to executing. It seems as though everyone is always going to do something. Whatever happened to the present tense? Or, even better, the past tense?
Why is sooner rather than later so important? Because every one of us has to come to grips with an irreplaceable, finite commodity: time. The entrepreneurial mind gets it; most others don’t.
I can’t tell you how many deals I’ve closed, how many successful ads I’ve run, how many projects that made it through the open window because I took action one month sooner, one week sooner, or one day sooner. Even an hour — sometimes a minute — sooner can be the difference between success and failure.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve seen hundreds of deals and projects go up in smoke because one or more people involved had no sense of urgency. I like to refer to it as the Fiddle Theory: The longer you fiddle around with a deal, the greater the odds that it will never close.
As the Republicans just discovered, time is your enemy when it comes to closing deals, mainly because circumstances are constantly changing.
Attention to Detail
It’s very frustrating to care deeply about accuracy when those around you don’t. Accuracy doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a direct result of caring enough to carefully check your work … then double-check it … and, if necessary, triple-check it … and continue to check it until it’s right.
People who can’t comprehend double- and triple-checking often get in a huff when they are called to task on something that is incorrect. Their attitude, often verbalized with anger, is: “How many times do I have to do this ! %?*!# thing?” The answer, of course, is: “Until you get it right!” The objective is not to finish the project. The objective is to finish the project correctly and on time.
Never use the excuse that you were too tired or, worse, too busy to check your work. My considerable experience has taught me that no one has a great deal of interest in how tired or how busy I am. What they are interested in is my giving them what I promised, giving it to them correctly, and giving it to them on time. In motivational circles, it’s called: Whatever it takes!
Follow-through means seeing things through to completion and doing so on time. Not near to completion — completion. Clearly, most people don’t seem to know the difference between the two.
One interesting thing I’ve discovered about people who fail to execute is that all too often, when someone tells me, “I’ve taken care of that,” what he really means is that he told someone else to take care of it. I’ve seen days, sometimes even weeks, lost because people don’t understand that a key component of delegation is to have a system for checking back to see if their delegation instructions have been properly carried out.
There’s nothing worse than a person who misstates the facts by proclaiming that something is done, then blames it on the person to whom he delegated the project when it turns out it isn’t. No one wants to hear about someone’s delegation problems. If the person with whom you’re dealing delegates the matter to someone else, that someone else is answerable to him. He, however, is answerable to you.
That said, what I like most about execution is that it’s not a natural talent. You have it entirely within your power to become good at it. It’s pretty much just a matter of commitment and determination than anything else.
If your goals are high, becoming a master at execution is not an option; it’s a necessity. But be forewarned that it can lead to a very lonely existence, because most people in modern-day America are in no hurry — unless, of course, it involves sporting events and other forms of entertainment.
On that note, allow me to close with another quote from John McKay with which I wholeheartedly agree: “You don’t beat people with surprises, but with execution.”