As years go by, we discover new ideas and are enlightened or inspired by those of others. Some ideas are rather common, or surprising or simply interesting to transform into opportunities to seize. The race for the next idea of the century becomes essential to success. In this race, however, we often miss the main point: Ideas are great, but achievements are better yet. The question, therefore, is: Do we focus too much time and effort into coming up with exceptional ideas instead of dedicating our time and energy to mature, test and improve our existing ideas? The answer, unfortunately, is much too often yes.
Across different organisations, the race to creative ideas is a priority. No one would deny that this is a positive thing in itself. The issue, though, is that we often limit ourselves to in coming up with creative ideas without focusing enough on the discipline to see them through to the end. Discipline here is to be understood as perseverance as well as an extra focus on the execution, the realisation of ideas. Execution and the discipline it requires are the real keys to success, much more so than the originality of said ideas. Many middle managers or managers reach a stage in their career claiming to have many ideas yet claiming to not be able to realise them for reasons which are remarkably similar across a broad range of industries: inadequate market, unsuitable demand, outdated regulations. These are valid reasons, yet one key reason is not named here: Our shortcomings in execution and lack of determination to see things through till the end.
This is true in many professional situations, not only in domains of creativity or entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. To quote a saying often heard in multiple companies, certain managers or consultants are great with Powerpoint slides, but remain very limited when it comes to delivering concrete actions or products. In fact, it often seems like we are surrounded by people who excel at suggestions but never seem to stick around for the difficult part, implementation and deployment.
The comfort and nobility of a proposal are completely different from vagaries of execution. What is certain is that offering ideas to other, especially those packaged as ‘brainwave of the century, is much less painful and demanding than seeing it through and ensuring its success. Even in case of apparent failure, success resides in the learning experience and building on the know-how accumulated in the failure, all the better to achieve results the next time around. Execution and performance gaps are everywhere to be seen in organisational environments. These give life to culture hungry for ideas and weak on achievements. These cultures love shows, conventional frameworks and headline effects, but are drenched in inefficiencies and are often surprised to be overtaken by much smarter competition.
The issue is obviously more complex than contrasting the simplicity of conception and the difficulties of inception. Indeed, one of the diseases which poisons and constantly endangers organisation is a specific conception of hierarchy and power, namely an arbitrary devolution of responsibility: Management created the idea, employees realise it. This separation of power between conception and execution evolved not only from industrial conceptions of management, but also from much older pre-conceived ideas about social classes. The misfortune and discomfort of many companies is that they ‘more generals than soldiers’, a recurrent and revealing expression I have come across in many qualitative interviews I have had the privilege to conduct as part of a strategic diagnostic of a multinational concern and its stake holders across 7 countries.
Encouraging the ‘delivery/execution’ mode is not guaranteed by recasting power or hierarchy, but results of a true managerial will to foster pro-delivery culture through experimentation, autonomous decision making and capitalising on failure. This culture can be further nurtured through efficient and unifying communication of efforts and quick-wins, as well as managerial support for employees, focusing on the ability to act rather than soft skills and know-how.
By Farid Yandouz