Disciplined execution is only half the equation

Recently an advisor noted that our company’s performance had significantly increased over the last quarter. In his mind, the improvements were a result of disciplined execution and keeping the team’s eye on the here and now. In fact, he recommended that I focus so keenly on execution that I exclude my senior executive team from any strategic discussions about the future of the business.

I was angered by the suggestion, but committed myself to processing the advice. Here are my conclusions.

This individual assessed our situation incorrectly. And, while disciplined execution is a must, I’m convinced that prioritizing execution to the exclusion of strategic thinking would prove detrimental.

Sustained results are rarely produced through a short period of execution. For us, it was no different. 3Pillar’s recent results are the culmination of our team’s execution over the past 18 months. It was at that time that we refined our operating model, tweaked our strategy, and set forth on a journey to take a quantum leap forward as a company. Our recent success is the result of more than just a few months hard work.

So what is it that drives results? Execution is a key component, but, in my experience, sustained results cannot be produced by execution alone.

Disciplined execution - David DeWolf

Execution is the carrying out of a plan. There are three critical flaws to focusing exclusively on execution.

Exceptional plans evolve over time.

The value of a plan is the process of planning that is required to produce it. No plan is perfect, but, as they start carrying it out, great leaders are able to learn and adjust a plan in order to navigate their team to success. They observe weaknesses, analyze threats and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

A crisp focus on execution, at the exclusion of critical and creative thinking, will prevent these tweaks from taking place, and ultimately prove fatal.

The best decisions are made in collaboration.

By focusing their team exclusively on execution, a leader risks making decisions in isolation. Strategic thinking is all about connecting dots. To do it successfully requires the collection of a myriad of discrete data points and alternate perspectives in order to find new intersections and derive new conclusions.

By its very nature, strategic thinking is best done in collaboration. The more minds, the more dots, and the more dots, the more connections to be found.

High performing teams are fully engaged.

Exceptional execution over a sustained period of time requires a highly motivated and fully engaged team. High performing teams buy into the plan they are executing. This typically occurs because they believe in the vision and feel as though their inputs are valued. A team whose opinions are minimized or whose value is limited to carrying out tasks is in great risk of being alienated.

There’s no doubt that disciplined execution is key to achieving goals. However, unless you are doing a simple task, I sincerely doubt you’ll reach extraordinary results if you focus your team on it exclusively.

Because of our approach, I’m convinced that 3Pillar’s recent results have staying power. We’ve created a framework for success and a culture of dignity, not just a nose-to-the-grindstone culture capable of producing short term numbers. We’re building a great company capable of navigating future challenges, not just executing today’s plan.

Don’t get me wrong, we work as hard as anybody else, if not harder, but we’re also inspired to build something great. We believe in where we’re headed. We think strategically, collaborate effectively, and create the future together, as a team. I’ll take my team over myself any day. And I trust them to execute and think simultaneously.


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