6 Key Principles of Effective Execution
Does your venture need help getting things done? If so, Doron Kempel offers six pieces of priceless advice.
Why is Kempel’s advice worth heeding? In a recent interview, he told me that as a Major in Israel’s Defense Force, at 26-years-old, he was a decorated, second in command of an elite unit, and led “meticulously planned and scrupulously executed missions far away from Israel and way behind enemy lines.”
Following degrees from Tel-Aviv University and Harvard Business School, he started and grew a division of EMC “from zero to multi hundred million dollars in annual revenue.”
After that, he partnered with the “technologically brilliant” Moshe Yanai to start Diligent Technologies. In 2008, Kempel sold Diligent to IBM--which called Diligent “the best run small company IBM has ever acquired.”
Kleiner Perkins partner, Matt Murphy, who sits on the board of Kempel’s current tech company, SimpliVity, led a recent $25 million investment in the company and he says Kempel is “an execution machine.”
Kempel described six key principles of effective execution.
1. Having a mission isn't enough.
It is crucial that what a company is good at doing matches its mission. For example, if a company’s mission is to win in a highly competitive market, it must be able to build, sell and support a technologically superior product and persuade customers and the market of that superiority.
The lesson from this principle is that your company must have a clear mission and unless you have the skills needed to turn that mission into effective action--the mission is not worth a hill of beans.
2. Hire people who buy into a company’s norms.
A company should hire people who are good at those skills and who must act in a way that is consistent with the company’s norms. SimpliVity seeks people with self-discipline, who are process-driven, results-oriented, and imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit--traits Kempel defines in much greater detail.
This means that your company must hire people with skills and style. The skills should be specific functional abilities that they have developed through training and work experience. But beyond that, hire people who have proven that they behave according to the values that you think are important. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to manage those misfits out of your company.
3. Promote competition and depersonalize failure.
Managers must encourage debates about ideas and let the best, fact-supported thinking win. Kempel makes roles and responsibilities clear, but minimizes hierarchy, a value he reinforces by occupying a cube, rather than an office.
When Kempel gives a presentation to his people, he expects them to share their skepticism and voice their opinions. If not, he encourages them to do that afterwards during a Post Activity Review (PAR). His goal is to reinforce risk taking and to depersonalize failure--using it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
For your company, this means that unless you are seriously committed to the best ideas – rather than turning your organization into an echo chamber for the CEO’s pronouncements – your company will fall ever further behind competitors who commit to continuous improvement.
4. Minimize team/manager conflict.
Kempel uses a quarterly Alignment By Objective (ABO) process to reinforce behavioral norms that can account for 10% to 15% of a person’s bonus. For example, a manager might have an ABO related to communication.
Kempel gave the example of a team member who wanted to learn how to disagree with her manager. He influenced her and her manager to assume ABO quarterly goals--for his part, “the manager would encourage her and she would express at least three unpopular views per quarter.”
The lesson here is that a company will get more out of its people if it respects their views. If you want to change the way managers interact with team members, the ABO process that Kempel described can be a powerful tool for developing managers who bring out the best in their people.
5. Create action item accountability.
Kempel believes that Simplivity must keep track of the tasks people must complete to achieve the company’s mission--what he calls “action item accountability.”
An action item is a team member’s specific, measurable, time-stamped goal that she agrees on with her manager. SimpliVity trains managers how to define and track them. After all “if action items are not recorded, tracked and measured, our whole spirit of execution will be undermined,” explained Kempel.
He and his managers use an “action item log” to keep track of whether the goal was achieved, on time and as specified, and what the company “learned from deviations.”
Without such an obsessive focus on tracking the achievement of goals, your company is likely to slip behind those that do.
6. Lead by example. Duh.
Despite all the processes, nothing is more compelling than the power of leaders to influence others through their actions. “In 35 years of leadership and management--in sports, military and business--I have seen no substitute for leadership by example. If the managers and leaders do not live, breathe and exemplify the norms, then the execution system will fail,” Kempel said.
The lesson here is that if the formal execution process constrains common sense, leaders should scrap it and do what they think is right. If your CEO says one thing and does the opposite, that disconnect will demoralize your people. So remember to lead by example.
Strategy consultant, start-up investor, teacher, corporate speaker, pundit and author of 11 books, Peter Cohan has invested in six start-ups, three of which were sold for a total of $2 billion. Before founding Peter S. Cohan & Associates in 1994, he worked with HBS strategy guru, Michael E. Porter.