Thursday, January 31, 2013

Execution is THE Strategy

Execution is THE Strategy

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes it take us years to realize that the lessons we learned a long time ago are needed today? Well that ‘Insight”, if I can be so bold, is present in my work life today, literally going back to a book, a set of meetings, and some key lessons that occurred almost ten years ago.

It was in late 2003 or early 2004, when I was leading retail sales for North America at The Coca Cola Company, when we invited the famous consultant, business adviser, and author Ram Charan to be our keynote speaker at a leadership meeting held in Atlanta. Ram, along with Larry Bossidy, had just released their book “Execution, The art of getting things done” ( and Ram lead a very focused and energetic discussion around the singular concept of “Execution.” At that time the business world I was immersed in was looking for new strategic avenues for growth, thinking that new products, new ad campaigns, new markets, possibly new categories were all the preferred routes for growth. This idea of Ram’s around building a culture of “execution”, literally focusing on the operating system itself and becoming maniacal around measuring and improving a company’s “execution metrics” seemed too simple, or maybe that we “had been there & done that.” Well little did I know that almost ten years later I was digging out my copy of his book and finding it relevant and highly impactful to my business today!

I have been at Bolthouse Farms for almost three years now and I am so proud of this company, our wonderful healthy products, and the amazing team I get to work with every day! We have had a lot of success growing our business broadly over the past three years and I have had the chance to learn and grow in this role in ways I didn’t always anticipate. As a leader when you work with a talented, motivated, and focused team much of your work is done. Well that is my very fortunate truth! In that light, we have reached new heights in parts of our business not by exploring new team configurations, or new categories but by building our “Execution” muscles.

One specific example came to mind recently when we worked on ways of taking a historic successful promotion to new heights. We followed a few simple pathways that you might find helpful in your business:

1) Expand your “expectations” for success. It’s easy to think that your historic successes are “tapped out” and that your focus as a leader should be on the areas not working as well. Not so fast! Take your best performing situations (markets/brands/promotions/etc) and raise your own expectations for success. If it’s been that good in the past, maybe we could/should expect 10%, 20% or even 30% greater performance in the future.

2) Use your “best in class” performance to guide the average. In any situation the average of any performance is made up of high, mid and low performers, the typical “bell curve” reality. We looked inside of this strong performing promotion and looked for the best performing market in the past. With that as a model, we took the actions and practices form that market and started building the playbook for broader translation.

3) Nurture next phase “best in class” performers. Identify solid performing entities (markets/ reps/distributors) that are in the middle of the “bell curve” but that are open to new ideas/thinking/approaches. Use them as pilots to try ideas from your new “playbook” (see #2) and soon you have multiple entities competing to be the very best.

4) Correct the “bottom of the bottom”. Look hard at the very bottom of the “bell curve” and identify the absolutely WORST performing entities (markets/ reps/distributors). Take personal action; get involved to understand the situation and identify the core barriers of success and take actions to correct some of the barriers NOW. Maybe “best in class” is beyond expectations, but for the lowest performing entities, average performance looks great!

While these four ideas or pathways aren’t exactly found in Ram’s book, our focus on core executional principles rings very true to his principles. Through these four simple ideas, we have continued to create new levels of executional success and thus new levels of results for our business!

While it might indicate certain “slowness” in my leadership capabilities that it took me almost ten years to apply his lessons, I am certainly re-energized around the idea that “execution” in itself can be the central strategy for productive marketplace growth. Be careful not to be tempted to look only outside your business for the keys for growth. It’s is my experience that there are tremendous opportunities for growth and success by looking deeply at your execution metrics today and making that focus a core strategy for your business in the future!