Monday, June 20, 2005

Execution, by Bossidy and Charan

Execution: The discipline of getting things done
by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

One of the most intriguing elements of this book was the basic concept. Is execution really a major element in corporate success or failure? Why Smart Executives Fail suggests that it is not, arguing that execution expertise can be quickly purchased (p 5). One answer to this difference of opinion may be the nature of the businesses studied. Why Smart Executives Fail studied instances in which successful companies failed, while Bossidy and Charan tell us that good execution must occur to achieve any success. In other words, most or all of the companies studied in Why Smart Executives Fail probably had a record of successful execution prior to their collapse. Johnson & Johnson’s stent business is a prime example of these divergent viewpoints, and Finklestein wins this argument through his (apparently) more wide-ranging and in-depth research. Despite this, many of the recommendations in the two books are very similar, for example, Bossidy and Charan say, “Insist on realism,” (p 57) and Finklestein gives “They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t 100 percent behind them” as Bad Habit #4 (p 226).

Bossidy and Charan present their ideas well, and give a good theoretical framework for successful execution. Their advice on how to integrate the people process with strategy and operations is particularly valuable, and they follow their own advice by breaking down their theory into operable steps. Their evidence in support of execution as a competitive advantage is thin, however, resting largely on personal experience. Other examples are much weakened by anonymity. In the end, Bossidy and Charan are not convincing in their argument that “Most often today the difference between a company and its competitor is the ability to execute.” (p 5) While a fundamental level of execution is clearly necessary for success, in most cases it is not sufficient; other elements of strategy play a large role.

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