Book Review: Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

The discipline of getting things done

I’ve set myself the goal of reading three books every two months: one personal growth, one leadership focused, and one ‘business’ book, for a total of 18 books over 12 months. It’s ambitious but I’m enjoying it so far. It also means that I’ll be able to deliver consistent book reviews to you that I hope you will also learn and grow from.

Let’s get in to the latest ‘business’ book I’ve finished, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

How I came about reading this book.

Since he writes a lot about boards, I’ve followed Ram Charan’s various articles on HBR over the past few years. But this particular book jumped out at me as I looked through our bookshelf for my next book choice. I was after something on strategy execution, and, well, a book entitled Execution (and is by Ram Charan) seemed the obvious choice.

This book in a nutshell.

Of course this book is about building an ‘execution culture’. Duh. Bossidy and Charan provide a framework on how exactly to do this.

Largely it focuses on two main parts: The Building Blocks of Execution and The Three Core Processes of Execution.

The first part goes in depth on the leader’s seven essential behaviours to enable execution, creating the framework for cultural change, and having the right people in the right place.

The second part analyses the people process (connecting strategy and operations), the strategy process (linking people with operations), conducting strategy reviews, and the operations process (linking strategy and people).

Although this book was published in 2002, the core principles and approaches defined in this book are absolutely relevant today, if not, more so. As we get caught up in the latest business fad, we lose focus of fundamentals (but that’s a post for another day).

Why you should read it.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that I often espouse all new and aspiring board members to have a sound business, strategy, and financial acumen. This book is one of the best I’ve read that will help you to develop your understanding of how all of the business parts need to work together to achieve the organisation’s desired outcomes, and what to do if things suddenly change (hello modern business environment!). In the book they call this synchronicity.

If you feel that you need further development in this area, beyond better understanding strategy execution, I highly recommend reading this book.

How it relates to being a director / board member.

There are some fantastic questions that you should be asking as a board member in relation to people, operations, and strategy. This will help you to ask better questions to the organisation leadership about the strategy they present to lead to more realistic goals and better outcomes for the organisation.

The section on how to effectively conduct a strategy review has greatest relevance to my boards. This is rarely done well, if it’s actually done at all.

Best piece of advice.

Choose fewer things, and execute on them really, really well.

This is such a simple and effective approach that seldom occurs in businesses across all sizes and industries. It requires the right culture, right leadership, and right strategy to be executed.

The other piece of advice that is universal is the seven essential leadership behaviours. They are: know your people and business; insist on realism; set clear goals and priorities; follow through; reward the doers; expand people’s capabilities through coaching; and know yourself.

Personal impact.

I have certainly adopted some new lines of questioning that I can utilise on my boards regarding strategy, people, culture, operations, and, of course, execution.

I’m also reminded of the importance of a candid culture. I actually know this, but it’s so hard to pull it off in reality. It’s still something that I am learning to balance: not come across as a pushy know-it-all, but still challenge effectively to lead to better outcomes for the organisation. I’m reminded to keep testing different approaches to find the right balance.

Purchase Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done


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October 26, 2017

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