It is not the quality of your ideas that makes you successful, but the quality of your implementation.
The challenge for innovators is that just having a fantastic new product idea is not sufficient for success. A good product has to be backed by strong execution. You will never own a product category as any initial success will draw in imitators.
The past is littered with failed first movers. Yahoo doesn’t own search and MySpace isn't the default social network.
History shows the fast follower is much more likely to win - so how do you stay in front?
The fast follower is much more likely to win
So, what makes some companies more successful than others?
In the end, the idea is less important. In reality, it all comes down to the quality of your execution. And when I say your execution, I mean the speed and quality of the hundreds of decisions being made every day in your company by your staff, all acting according to the information they have available, and in their own self-interest.
How do you make sure your staff are making the right decisions?
1. Clear company vision
The starting point for excellence of execution is having a crystal-clear vision of what the company’s mission and purpose is.
Google's famous mission is "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". This sends a clear message about what the company should (and should not) be doing.
It’s worth noting that this is not an objective. There is unlikely to come a time when they will say they have completed this mission. This mission expresses the problem they are solving.
2. Clear objectives
The next stage is to have clear objectives - which sounds easy, but in practice is very hard.
It is essential that they are:
- not open to interpretation
- have a clear time frame
- all essential
This sends out a clear message of what teams and individuals need to be achieving. They should be cascaded down throughout the organisation to the level of individual employees’ tasks.
This can be an incredibly time consuming process and many people don’t do it properly. Every team has to come up with a set of objectives that will help the company achieve its top level objectives, and every individual then has to come up with tasks and activities that will achieve the team objectives.
As part of this process you may discover that the team or company objectives (or the time frames) are not realistic and need to be adjusted. But in the end you’ll have clarity of what people need to be doing, by when, in order to achieve your goals.
There are two really clear benefits to this
- the whole company is educated on the top-level aims and aspirations of your business,
- activities that feel useful but don’t deliver the results you want are minimised. Many companies are full of people working busily on tasks that don’t deliver the required value.
Next: codify your culture and values
But the 'what' isn't sufficient. You also need the 'how'. This is where you need to articulate and codify your culture and values.
Culture isn't about beers and ping pong tables, it's about setting the context for decision-making throughout the company:
- who you hire
- who you fire
- how you treat customers
- how you communicate and so on
You need to choose values that really express the personality of your company.
Not just a list of nice sounding adjectives like 'honest' and 'fair' but things that really express a difference between the way you do things and your competitors. Your values can have an element of aspiration to them, but have to reflect what you currently have.
If your culture and values aren't regularly referred to in meetings when decisions are being taken, then they are not useful.
But, don’t take too long!
But even making the right decisions won't help you out-compete if you deliberate on them for too long.
The company that decides fastest, acts fastest.
Hence the famous Facebook motto "Move fast and break things". Most decisions can be reversed if they don't work out, and until you try something it's hard to know what the right answer is.
Make the decision and get into action.
It is important that decisions don't get second-guessed or overruled once taken.
If managers countermand decisions taken by their staff, the staff will stop taking decisions and rely on the manager to make them. This creates a bottleneck, but also means that a person further from the front line (and therefore the best information) is making all the calls.
The idea that one person (even the founder) will make the best decision in all cases is patently not right –
decision making needs to be devolved.
Some of this may seem common sense, but companies find it really hard to consistently get the basics right - those that do grow incredibly rapidly!
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