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This chapter is from the book

Making Sense of the Data and Going Forward

Given the responses from managers just noted, what does all this mean? What really affects execution? What should we focus on in subsequent chapters of this book?

The first thing I did to answer these questions was to include all items that were ranked fifth or higher in either or both samples of managers. If either or both groups felt that strongly about an execution obstacle, I felt that the item deserved consideration. The far right-hand column in Table 1.1 shows checkmarks by these items.

Second, I looked to the open-ended responses, panel discussions, and my own notes taken during the Wharton programs and panel discussions to flesh out the items in Table 1.1. This proved to be enlightening. I determined easily that "managing change" included managing cultural change to many of the respondents, a point emphasized earlier. The impact of culture itself on execution and company performance was often emphasized, even though culture was not one of the 12 survey items. Managers basically said that culture was an underlying explanatory element in responses dealing with incentives, power, and change, items that were included in the survey. Some argued strongly for the importance of culture as a separate factor affecting execution success.

From these discussions and open-ended responses, I learned why there were many strong comments for certain items, such as the need for an execution model or plan. If a plan existed to guide execution efforts in their company, managers did not rank it as a significant problem. If such a plan didn't exist, it was considered to be a major shortcoming that gave rise to yet additional problems in the execution process.

I read and heard the lamentations of many about execution problems that arise from poor strategy or inadequate planning. Vague strategies cannot easily be translated into the measurable objectives or metrics so vital to execution. Unclear corporate and business plans inhibit integration of objectives, activities, and strategies between corporate and business levels. Poor strategies result in poor execution plans. Points such as these derived from the panel discussions and open-ended responses provided helpful insights into the meaning of the survey items and the factors affecting execution.

Finally, managers told me about the importance of controls or feedback in the execution process. What they were emphasizing is the importance of strategy reviews that provide feedback about performance and allow for changes in execution methods. These points are consistent with the importance of managing change and organizational adaptation, issues already discussed, but the managers' additional emphasis on the importance of controls, feedback, and change were duly noted.

After carefully examining all the data, I then tried to "cluster" the items logically to see which obstacles to successful execution seemed to "stick together." Here is my take on what the data seem to be saying.

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