Author: Robert Neiman
Reviewer: Goke Ilesanmi
This text, entitled Execution Plain and Simple, with the subtitle Twelve Steps to Achieving Any Goal on Time and on Budget is written by Robert Neiman, a holder of a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. Neiman is a partner in Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, a management consulting firm that has pioneered the theory and practice of managing change and building high-performing organisations for over forty years.
Based in Stamford, Connecticut, the firm helps organisations achieve rapid improvements in results, sustain progress and link strategic planning, organisation development and operational innovation to succeed in rapidly-changing environments. This author has helped major corporations achieve tremendous gains in performance and profitability. He has put his experience on paper for managers who know their organisations have much more potential, can and must do better, and who need to overcome busyness, delays, diversions and other barriers.
According to Neiman, better execution is one of the great untapped opportunities for improving organisational performance. This author says it is basic and is what managers do all the time. He stresses that yet, in too many organisations, execution falls inexcusably short.
Neiman adds that despite its importance, execution has been in the background of management thinking, taken for granted, dismissed as obvious, even considered mundane in contrast with the sparkle of new strategies, new technologies, new opportunities and new partners. He says execution as a competitive advantage has been hidden behind a thick curtain.
Structurally, this text is divided into two parts of 16 chapters. Part one is generically christened Twelve Steps to Achieving Any Goal on Time and on Budget and accordingly contains 12 chapters. Chapter one is based on the subject matter of taking responsibility. According to Neiman here, “The underlying assumption of execution is that your own sense of responsibility and your initiative will be the driving forces of achieving your goals. All the tools and techniques work only in the hands of a responsible initiator. Taking responsibility and initiative has several meanings. If you are managing an effort, it means you have the responsibility for its success… If you are party to an effort and see an error being made or an opportunity to do something better, you raise the issue and do something constructive about it.”
This author educates that taking responsibility and initiative is not a problem for entrepreneurs or solo operators whose whole work existence depends on their own initiative. “Taking responsibility and initiative is not a problem for managers in complex organisations who have a clear assignment, enthusiasm about tackling the assignment, plenty of people and resources available to help, and who feel confident they can carry it off,” adds Neiman.
He says the first step for execution is mental preparedness. This author stresses that you should think of yourself as someone who has an assignment or an opportunity and it is time to get moving. According to him, “Think of the role you’ll play. If you are a senior manager, you will be conceiving major directions and calling upon others to create work programmes and specific projects. You will be acting as a sponsor. If you are a middle manager, you might be creating the work programmes and projects…. If you are a front-line manager, or are leading a specific project yourself, you’ll be a project leader. If you are a staff person or facilitator, you’ll be providing the support. If you are a participant, you’ll be carrying out specific tasks.”
Chapter two is interrogatively entitled What’s that again? Define your assignment – in writing. Here, this author says ideally, execution begins with an assignment, an official charge to tackle a goal. “A good assignment generates a spark, enthusiasm, a spring to your step. It comes from your boss, your management team, or your board, and it spells out what you need to accomplish and gives you some guidance on how to proceed,” illuminates Neiman.
He adds that ideally, you will be able to discuss the assignment first, then you will get a written memorandum summarising it. He says the tone will be encouraging and you and your boss will both have a warm feeling that you are all together and off to a good start. According to this author, “All of this might sound like the most basic aspects of Management 101. But because it is so basic, giving assignments is often slighted, treated inadequately or superficially. You might discover that there are quite different views of just what the assignment really is. It might be ambiguous or confusing because it overlooks important questions, or has the wrong tone, or covers up hidden but important concerns. It’s tempting to shrug and move on, doing the best you can.”
Neiman stresses that for effective execution, however, you must sort out the issues and define the assignment early on, adding that if you skip over this step, or leave it too loose, your whole effort will be on shaky ground.
In chapters three to eight, this author examines concepts such as organising your core team and creating a strategy; getting input and support from key players; holding a compelling kick-off event to create momentum; making all the pieces fit by using plans, schedules, budgets and controls; making demands effectively; and following up like crazy without driving people crazy.
Chapter nine is based on the subject matter of using political skills to win constituents and overcome opposition. According to Neiman here, “Political skill is essential to get things done in an organisation. You made a start on this process when doing the reconnaissance to test your strategy… Then you uncovered issues to deal with, discovered the attitudes of people with respect to your strategy, and made adjustments to your strategy to accommodate what you learned. In this chapter, we get into greater depth on the politics of execution to deal with some of the more difficult issues.”
He says for great execution, five basic political skills critical are focusing on readiness rather than resistance; getting behind the masks that difficult people wear; building a mission and a constituency that can win; communicating a consistent message strategically and dealing with the unengageable few.
In chapters 10 to 12, this author analytically X-rays concepts such as using creative problem-solving to overcome unforeseen risks, delays and obstacles; managing an intense push to get the final results and rewards; and capturing and spreading what you learn.
Part two is summarily woven together as Accelerated execution: Using small breakthrough projects to achieve large strategic goals and contains four chapters, that is, chapters 13 to 16. Chapter 13 is based on the subject matter of what crises can teach us about accelerated execution. According to Neiman here, “Just think how much more organisations produce in a crisis than under normal conditions. Crises reveal for an instant the extraordinary execution capability of an organisation…capability not visible before. People rally round and do whatever it takes to deal with the situation. And nothing has changed except the urgency and importance of the challenge to be met and the level of execution to respond.”
In chapters 14 to 16, this author beams his intellectual searchlight on concepts such as getting crucial results fast, generating momentum and building new organisational capabilities; multiplying breakthrough project successes to reach the big goals; and focusing your organisation on the few most crucial goals.
Stylistically, this text is okay. The language yields itself to easy understanding and the concepts are logically and didactically presented. Neiman makes the text practical and interactive by including a worksheet/exercise section to test readers’ understanding and arouse their active participation.
One of the errors noticed in the text is “His 12-steps provide…” (outside back cover) instead of “His 12 steps provide…” Also, a technical error of prepositional redundancy is noticed on page one thus: “Twelve Steps to Achieving Any Goal on Time and on Budget” instead of “Twelve Steps to Achieving Any Goal on Time and Budget.”
These errors need to be corrected in the next edition.
On a note of analytical finality, this text is highly recommended to all managers and organisations that want to achieve success through proper execution strategy.
GOKE ILESANMI, Editor-in-Chief/CEO of https://www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng and Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, (Business) Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.
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