Do You Get Stuff Done?

Earlier in my career I had the privilege of leading the Emergency Management Department for Walmart Stores, Inc.  My entry in to this role was definitely trial-by-fire and as a young leader at that level, I certainly learned a lot very quickly.

In the first 18 months, we dealt with 7 land-falling hurricanes (including hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the SE Asia Tsunami, and the emergence of Avian Flu (strain H1N1) among many other crises.

We were a developing and growing team and these experiences helped define and shape who we were and how we did business.

Emerging from this first 18 months, we defined a list of 10 key success factors that made us very effective at our jobs.

Numbers 1 through 9 covered important practices like Establishing Priorities, Relationship Building, Effective Communication, Flexibility and Empowerment.  While these were all very important success factors, without Number 10 they meant nothing.

It is Number 10 that I want to focus on in this post.


Key success factor Number 10 is Execution.

Execution is the act of carrying something into effect or to completion; achievement.  In plain speak, it’s getting stuff done.

Execution is a key success factor for leaders. 

Back to my example in Emergency Management:  We could plan for disasters all day long.  We could train and practice to our heart’s content.  We could build great relationships with state and federal governments.  However, if we didn’t “do” when the crisis bell rung and take care of our associates, get our operations back up and running, and support our communities, then we wouldn’t have accomplished a thing.  And all the time we spent planning, practicing and building relationships would have been nothing but a waste.

This tenet translates into every job that I’ve been in and at every level.  It could be executing a technology strategy.  It could be launching a new product.  It could be executing a training plan.  The ability to execute is core to leadership.  Leaders lead people to get stuff done.

As a leader, you may execute through others or you may be required to roll up your sleeves and get some of the “dirty work” done yourself.  Regardless, you need to be engaged in ensuring that whatever it is that is supposed to be done is getting done properly.

Depending upon where you lie in the organizational structure, you may think, “I have people that can manage the execution.”  I say this is a slippery slope.  As a leader, you should be in the detail of what is going on.  Yes, you may have a manager, senior manager, or director getting things done for you, but you should be well “in the know” of what is going on and guiding the ship.

Now, every company is different and has different styles of doing things, but my experience is that the more successful leaders are those that are into the details of their business and ensure that things get done.

What does the CEO think?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to listen to my CEO talk about this topic.  He stated affirmatively that “Retail is Detail” (since I work for a retailer) and said that he focuses a great deal of his time on the details of the business.  In fact, he spends about half of his time in what he would call the tactics of the business; talking to customers, talking to suppliers, looking at merchandise, visiting competition, etc.

This was very intriguing to hear as the mantra we tend to hear as we move up in the company is to become MORE strategic and LESS tactical.  He was quick to point out that our culture is about execution and that’s what makes us who we are as a company.  Personally, I would add that it makes us agile.  He went on to say that as a leader, it is important to be strategic, but it’s MORE important to have the ability to execute and get results.

He said that we should be known as the person that “rolls up their sleeves and gets in to the details” and more importantly, gets stuff done.

As I look around, I see some very successful Directors, VPs, and SVPs that can recite with amazing detail and accuracy the performance results of programs, products, stores, markets, and the company overall.  They know the details of their business.  But more importantly, they do something with those details.  As an example, I see them make early morning phone calls to underperforming markets to ascertain why and/or encourage them to do better.  They drive their business.  They execute.  They get results. And they are very good at it.

Are they strategic?  Yes.  But the balance of time that they spend “doing” versus “contemplating and building strategy” weighs more towards the “getting stuff done” side.

Does this mean you don’t have to be strategic as a leader?  No.  You need to be smart about how you get things done, which is why there needs to be balance.  “Doing” without strategy (or thought) often leads to less than desirable results, unachieved potential, or flailing.  It’s the balance of time that you put in to it though.  Back to the CEO and the successful folks mentioned above, they spend some time on strategy, but then spend the majority of time on executing and getting things accomplished.

Remember, if you didn’t execute, you didn’t do anything.

So, what are you known for?  Rolling up your sleeves and getting results?  Do you get stuff done?

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