The Art of Execution

Istock_000000398439mediumIf my memory isn’t failing me, after the Robert Redford character gets elected in The Candidate, he whispers to one of his supporters, “Now what?” Raising money ls like running for office: it’s very exciting and even fun if you get the money. But after you raise the money, now what?

The good news is that you got the money. The bad news is you got the money. At the end of the process, every entrepreneur has to answer the same question as the candidate: “Now what?” The answer to this question is, “Now you execute.” And the next question is, “How do we execute?” This is the topic of this blog.

  1. Create something worth executing.You’re going to get tired of my obsession with great products but pitching, demoing, bootstrapping, and executing are a lot easier if you’ve created something meaning-full. It’s hard to stay motivated and excited about executing crap. It’s easy if you’re changing the world. So if you and your team are having a hard time executing, maybe you’re working on the wrong thing.

  2. Set goals. The next step is to set goals. Not just any kind of goals, but the right goals, and the right goals embody these four qualities:

    • Measureable. If a goal isn’t measureable, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve it. For a startup, quantifiable goals are things like shipping deadlines, downloads, sales volume, whatever. The old yarn, “What gets measure gets done” is true. This also has ramifications on the number of goals because you can’t (and shouldn’t) measure everything. Three to five goals are plenty.

    • Achievable. Take your “conservative” forecast for these goals and multiply them by .1; then use that as your goal. For example, if you think you’ll easily sell one million units in the first year, then set your goal at 100,000 units. There is nothing more demoralizing than setting a “conservative” goal and falling short; instead take 10% of your forecast, make this your goal, and blow it away. You might think that such a practice will lead to under-achieving organizations because they aren’t being challenged–yeah, well, check back with me after you don’t sell a million widgets like you conservatively thought you would.

    • Relevant. A good goal is relevant. If you’re a software company, it’s the number of downloads of your demo version. It’s not your ranking in Alexa, so telling the company to focus on getting into the top 50,000 sites in world in terms of traffic is not nearly as relevant as 10,000 downloads per month.

    • Rathole-resistant. A goal can be measureable, achievable, and relevant and still send you down a rathole. Let’s say you’ve created a content web site. Your measureable, achievable, and relevant goal is to sign up 100,000 registered users in the first ninety days. So far, so good. But what if you focus on this body count without regard to the stickiness of the site? So now you’ve gotten 100,000 people to register, but they visit once and never return. That’s a rathole. Ensure that your goal encompasses all the factors that will make your organization viable.

  3. Postpone, or at least de-emphasize, touchy feely goals. I’ll get lots of negative feedback about this, but touchy feel goals like “create a great work environment” are bull shitake. They may make the founders feel good. They may even make the employees feel good. But companies that execute on measurable goals are happy. Those that don’t, aren’t. As soon as you start missing the measurable goals, all the touchy feely stuff goes out the window. As my mother used to tell me, “Son, sales fixes everything.”

  4. Communicate the goals. Many executive teams set goals, but they don’t communicate these goals to the organization. For goals to be effective, they have to be communicated to every employees in the organization. Employees should wake up in the morning thinking about how they’re going to help achieve these goals.

  5. Measure progress on a weekly basis. The goals that people achieve are the goals that are measured. If you don’t measure progress towards a goal, you might as well not set it. This is also another reason for setting only three to five goals: people can’t focus on more than five, and measuring many more that five is difficult too. The optimal time period to review progress is weekly: monthly is too little pressure; daily is too anal.

  6. Establish a single point of responsibility. If you ask your employees who is responsible for a goal, and no one can answer you in ten seconds, then it means that there’s not enough accountability. If more than one person is responsible for the achievement of a goal, then no one is responsible. Good employees accept responsibility. Great employees seek responsibility. Lousy employees avoid responsibility.

  7. Follow thru on an issue until it is done or irrelevant. Many organizations set goals and even measure progress towards them. However, after a short period of time, some goals are no longer on the radar because people start focusing on the coolest and most interesting stuff. For example, fixing bugs in the current version of a software application may not be as interesting as designing a new, breakthrough product, but your current customers think so.

  8. Reward the achievers. Rewarding the people who achieve their goals has two positive effects. First, the achievers feel rewarded and become even more excited about doing their job. Second, the under- and non-achievers know that the company takes execution very seriously. The form of the reward can be money, stock options, time off–whatever works to serve notice to everyone that “this person delivered.”

  9. Establish a culture of execution. Execution is not an event–a onetime push towards achieving goals. Rather it is a way of life, and this way of life (execution versus non-execution) is set in the early days of the organization. The best way to establish this culture is for the founders, particularly the CEO, to set an example of filling goals, responding to customers, and heeding and measuring employees. This obsession should go right down to the level of the CEO answering emails and responding to phone calls.

  10. Heed your “Morpheus.” Morpheus is the character in The Matrix who gave Neo the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. He was, essentially, the adult supervision. Cold, brutal reality is the ally of execution, so find a Morpheus who distributes the red pills and enables employees to see things as they really are.

Written at: Backseat of a car going to and from Stockton, California.

By | 2016-10-24T14:29:08+00:00 January 28th, 2006|Categories: Entrepreneurship, Innovation|Tags: |35 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

35 Comments

  1. MJ January 29, 2006 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    This is the sort of stuff I was teaching my students when I taught in the local technical college. The class where it came up was the tutoring class designed to guide the students through the process of their annual project. We had some students who came every class (and submitted their work to be measured) and some who drifted off because it wasn’t an essential (in terms of credit) class. I believe it was essential because it taught them how to manage a project. And if they followed the simple rules, unfettered from having to make a viable business or make sure there was coffee in the jar, then they at least had a grounding for The Real World. Back then we called it SMART (or sometimes STAR)
    – Specific
    – Measureable
    – Achievable
    – Results-oriented/Realistic
    – Trackable
    It’s not grains of wisdom – it’s common sense! And hopefully more people will pay attention now you’ve put it into the blogosphere.

  2. Running as Root January 29, 2006 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Words to Live By

    Executing
    Guy Kawasaki has a great post on the art of execution. There are many good points in it and, besides being a guide to organizations just starting out, it would serve as a great refresher to organizations that are losing their way. The pro…

  3. Career Intensity Blog - David V. Lorenzo January 29, 2006 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Guy on Goals

    A couple of weeks ago I posted about S.M.A.R.T. goals.Guy Kawasakiweighs in today with his take on goals for entrepreneurs. He says:
    Set goals. The next step is to set goals. Not just any kind of goals, but the right goals, and th…

  4. Rob January 29, 2006 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Thanks Guy- Rob

  5. Creative One January 30, 2006 at 12:11 am - Reply

    Gk, I have been reading your blogs for a month now….and I was wondering when will you get to the chapter of ” The Art of Success” Throughout your journey thru life and experiences, you must have formulated an equation to success. An easy equation that i can apply to my daily life and become very successful. Albert Einstein came up with E=MC2, for Guy Kawasaki Success=???. Somebody has told me once. If I model a successful person, eventually I will become successful too or else I have been bambozo.

  6. Faisal Khan January 30, 2006 at 12:34 am - Reply

    I had read a slightly different variation of the “goal”. It must be achievable, measurable, accountable and rewardable.
    FK

  7. Satragon January 30, 2006 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki is so good

    I dont even know why I bother with this blog sometimesI should just redirect this page to his website My favorite part of one of his recent posts:
    Establish a single point of responsibility. If you ask your employees…

  8. Adam January 30, 2006 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Great post, and true.
    Like the line the book, “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance” — Lou Gerstner writes (paraphrasing): “What’s the most import lesson in business? Execution, execution, execution.”

  9. Ken January 30, 2006 at 8:27 am - Reply

    I really love your blog Guy, I am a regular here and was wondering if you could write about education. Maybe some units you wish you had taken while in college.
    Books you read or courses you took that helped you get to where you are.

  10. Gabe January 30, 2006 at 8:35 am - Reply

    LOL. For a second there I thought your title mean, the art of execution as in killing.

  11. A Shareware Life January 30, 2006 at 8:46 am - Reply

    All Software is Shareware

    There is a great post today on Guy Kawasaki’s blog called The Art of Execution. Read the whole thing, there is a lot of good advice there. But what I noticed was this passage:A good goal is relevant. If you’re

  12. Kendall January 30, 2006 at 9:05 am - Reply

    I think that #4 (Communicating the Goal) is so often overlooked. I think it can be taken even further though. To give input and ownership to employees is important as well. I think it probably ties into rewarding achievers. I think that employees with a voice are motivated to be creative and innovative in a way that employees that are told the goals do not.

  13. David Hanson January 30, 2006 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Execution. That blog did not suck at all. Great job.
    Dave

  14. Marcus January 30, 2006 at 9:56 am - Reply

    The Art Of BS.
    Old crappy stuff.

  15. Ted Smith January 30, 2006 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Networking: IT training a retention issue
    CHICAGO, Jan. 30 (UPI) — Training and education of experienced IT professionals already established in the workforce is becoming a major concern, one certain to be on the consciousness of senior management at corporations all over the United States in the coming year, experts tell United Press International’s Networking.
    A survey, released last week by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a trade association for the IT industry, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., in suburban Chicago, indicates that workers are taking the initiative to get the new training and skills they need for their careers, and that employers, thus far, are not providing guidance as to what skills they want for the future. By Gene Koprowski

  16. Strategy Central January 30, 2006 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Getting the Right Things Done

    So you’re clear on the mission and you’ve gathered the beginnings of a great team. Now what? How do you go from where you are to actually succeeding at what you’re trying to do? Guy Kawasaki gives some great direction

  17. Scott January 30, 2006 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    Great Blog! I passed this on throughout my company. It not only has to do with new companies but every business out there today.
    Keep ’em coming Guy!

  18. Aristotle Pagaltzis January 30, 2006 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    I disagree about rewarding; it can easily, *easily* backfire. See also:
    Incentive Pay Considered Harmful
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000070.html
    Why salary bonus and other incentives fail to meet their objectives
    http://www.artima.com/weblogs/viewpost.jsp?thread=49046

  19. Startup Fever January 30, 2006 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    The Art of Execution

    Guy Kawasaki on the art of execution:
    The good news is that you got the money. The bad news is you got the money. At the end of the process, every entrepreneur has to answer the same question as the candidate: “Now what?” The answer to this quest…

  20. Marketing Interactions January 31, 2006 at 5:41 am - Reply

    Rathole-Resistant Web Sites

    Guy Kawasaki wrote a post about The Art of Execution. He said some really great stuff, and you should definitely read it. But, here’s the part that caught my attention – go figure. This is under the goals part: Rathole-resistant. A goal can be measurea…

  21. Digital Digressions January 31, 2006 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Don’t Promise – Deliver!

    Designers seldom struggle in coming up with something worth having, executing or delivering, but more often than not do our good intentions fall to deaf ears and for one reason or another, things don’t take off. It is often easier to figure out why the…

  22. Digital Digressions January 31, 2006 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Don’t Promise – Deliver!

    Designers seldom struggle in coming up with something worth having, executing or delivering, but more often than not do our good intentions fall to deaf ears and for one reason or another, things don’t take off. It is often easier to figure out why the…

  23. Roshan.info January 31, 2006 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    links for 2006-01-31

    Let the Good Times Roll–by Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Execution (tags: GTD VC) How to Start a Startup (tags: Business Startup Entrepreneur Productivity Lifehacks Interview Learning Howto DIY Self)…

  24. Lispian's Radio Weblog January 31, 2006 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    A bunch of assorted stuff

  25. notgartner.com: Mitch Denny's Blog February 1, 2006 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Single Point of Responsibility

  26. The Ultimate Corporate Entrepreneur February 2, 2006 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Inventive Innovators: Leveling the Playing Field

    Got ideas on the drawing board (that need to come off)? Check out Guy Kawasaki’s blog post, Art of Executing, relevant tips for entrepreneurs – start-up or corporate.

  27. Digital Digressions February 10, 2006 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Don’t Promise – Deliver!

    Designers seldom struggle in coming up with something worth having, executing or delivering, but more often than not do our good intentions fall to deaf ears and for one reason or another, things don’t take off. It is often easier to figure out why the…

  28. Alarms and Interruptions March 3, 2006 at 11:50 pm - Reply

    Effective Goals

    Recently, a friend (who shall remain anonymous) vented to me about his day of meetings.
    We are talking about goals, but, I dont think we are making progress.  We will never be able to achieve these goals.  Th…

  29. Futurelab's Blog March 5, 2006 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    The Art of Execution

    by: Guy Kawasaki If my memory isn’t failing me, after the Robert Redford character gets elected in The Candidate, he whispers to one of his supporters, Now what? Raising money ls like running for office: it’s very exciting and even…

  30. The Ultimate Corporate Entrepreneur March 26, 2006 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Inventive Innovators: Leveling the Playing Field

    Got ideas on the drawing board (that need to come off)? Check out Guy Kawasaki’s blog post, Art of Executing, relevant tips for entrepreneurs – start-up or corporate.

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  32. Lose Weight September 24, 2006 at 2:22 pm - Reply

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  34. Alpha Kappa Psi - Mu Sigma February 12, 2007 at 11:17 am - Reply

    How to Execute Your Plan Like Patton and Avoid Your Own PersonalWaterloo

    Imagine, if you will, that you have spent months coming up with an ingenious product that will finally afford you the opportunity to purchase the Lear Jet you have been dreaming of since you were six years old. The next thought to come to mind is “h…

  35. Open Sources | Rodrigues & Urlocker October 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    The Art of execution

    More from Guy Kawasaki’s book “Reality Check.”

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