Embedding a Culture of Execution

(And a few thoughts about the little things that make a big difference)

As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a fascination with execution – although I never used to called it that of course. I just remember spending hours as a kid with a big bucket of LEGO bricks on the floor of my parents house building endless creations without the need for plans or strategies – just “doing” LEGO.

Today I believe that execution is one of the most important collective sets of activities in which marketers must engage because consumers don’t and will never buy a brand or a product for its strategies. Great Ideas, brilliantly executed, is what sells products.

In fact Execution is Strategic. No strategy can be successful without taking into account how to execute it. No strategy delivers results unless it’s converted into specific activities that are superbly executed.

The brands that get this tend to reward I DO over IQ – and these are the ones that will win. These companies tend to be more ideas led, more nimble and more willing to take risks, to make mistakes and to learn from them. Most of all, they are not ruled by their strategy, but guided by it, able to evolve their ideas and plans based on market forces and consumer feedback.

There’s of course no empirical evidence to support this, but who cares, that’s what we are taking about – it just seems to make good sense.

So if you want to foster and executional culture you must first focus upon changing the beliefs within the company that influence specific behaviours, since behaviours are what ultimately deliver results.

These beliefs should prompt us every day to look ourselves in the eye and ask:

  1. IS EVERY ASPECT OF OUR BRAND PLANS PLAN BRILLIANTLY EXECUTED?
  2. AM I SPENDING MY TIME ON THE THINGS THAT WILL MAKE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE?
  3. HAVE I GOT INTIMATE WITH MY CONSUMER, POKED AROUND IN THE MARKET OR SPOKE TO A CUSTOMER IN THE PAST WEEK?

Too many of us, me included, would have answered no to at least one of those questions, because it’s too easy in life to talk about the abstract (strategy) and harder to get into the detail (execution).

So here are a few concrete things that I think are important when trying to embedding a Culture of Execution into any organisation – big or small. 

[YOUR CHOICES] You need to focus on winning with the markets or consumers who will make the biggest difference – he who tries to please everybody pleases nobody (Aesop)

[YOUR TEAMS] You cannot be the best unless you work with the best – you should ensure that you are working with the very best partners and people. Being able and willing to work collaboratively is key – without it your execution is only as good as you are, so you better hope your pretty bloody good.

[YOUR TIME] Every touch counts. Execution should be where you invest your time and energy. From now on you should agree to spend 80% of your time on execution because that is what will make the biggest difference. Brands that succeed have been able to tun their execution into a competitive advantage – relying only on product superiority makes for lazy marketing.

[PURPOSE] “You don’t need journeymen, nor intellectuals, nor people who unquestioningly execute process. You need doers. People who want to make a difference, people who are constantly on the lookout for where things can be better, people who want to win 5-0 not just 1-0, people who think: “if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards”

[ALLOW FOR FREEDOM IN THE FRAMEWORK] Strategy is important but you should not be a slave to it. Always look for opportunities to “steal with pride” and be as passionate about repurposing existing ideas and to grow your business, as you are about inventing new toys. There are many ways of describing it, Coke talk about ‘Freedom in the Framework’, Unilever about ‘Adopt & Adapt’, Proctor about ‘Think Global act Local’ but they all mean the same thing – you need to find ways to tell your story in a way that consumers will relate to. And you have to be ready to listen and react.

[THE CONSUMER EXPERIENCE] As Marketers we talk about how the brand experience is supposed to feel like and then we try and sum it up in a page of PowerPoint. That’s bollocks. Experiences are full of emotional nuance that connect, entertain and move you. After all when was the last time you left a movie and said “I loved that film it really made sense?” Brilliant Brand Experiences should go beyond ideas, logic, strategy and process; they should be about the stuff you can’t write down.

[YOUR BEHAVIOUR] You cannot talk about doing you can only do by doing. Behaviour is contagious so we must set an example that we would want others want to follow.

[YOUR GOALS & PRIORITIES] They must be clearly defined and remain consistent. They should be shared by all but owned by individuals. They must be tracked, measured and followed through so people feel accountable for their delivery. As Soichiro Honda said: “Each individual should work for himself. People will not sacrifice themselves for the company. They come to work at the company to enjoy themselves”

Hopefully there was something in there that made you think.

If there was just remember: Thoughts aren’t exclusive, they are to be shared, added to and stretched. So if something did inspire you to do something differently, feel free to share it with someone else. You might just inspire them too. That’s when things really get exciting.

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