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Lesson 6: It is all about execution "Do you have XQ?"

The intensity of a lion’s gaze is bone chilling. Once hungry eyes are fixed on a specific prey, the drama begins to unfold with precise movements and resolute focus. First the stalk, undercover and purposeful, then suddenly the charge, at 30 or 40 meters, and then the resulting panic of the prey...The sight of lions stalking prey, slowly creeping up on it through the long grass, is a quintessential African image. There are thousands of adjectives that could colorfully describe the intensity of a hunt. When lions succeed it is normally a well co-ordinated and synergistic effort that leaves us speechless.
Lions may hunt at any hour, but they typically go after large prey at night. They hunt together to increase their success rate, since prey can be difficult to catch and can outrun a single lion. Lions will normally fan out along a broad front or semicircle to creep up on their prey. Once  within striking distance, they charge in among the startled animals, knock one down and kill it with a bite to the neck or throat. Witnessing the synergy of their unleashed power and explosive individual strength is a privilege reserved for only a few. A successful hunt will often raise questions such as ‘how did they do that?”, “how did they all know which one to go for?” and “how did they communicate”?

What stands out for me however is the ability of lions to remain focused on the hunt, to finish off what they started. In their world, execution is a matter of life and death. They don’t have the luxury of coming back tomorrow or start again in the new financial year or wait for HQ approval. There is only one opportunity at any given moment and it is all about executing as efficiently as possible. There is an intelligence of execution=XQ
This intelligence to finish what is started is desperately needed in our world. Most organisations have plenty of IQ. Never before in history have so much talent, creativity and raw intellect poured into the workforce. A lot of "smarts" goes into the development of organisational plans and strategies these days, normally the traditional focus of the best and brightest. Organisations spend millions to recruit, grow and retain this intellectual capital.
There's also a need for EQ, or emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman has popularized EQ as an essential trait of good organisational leadership. It is about being smart about feelings, how we respond to others and how we choose to react in different situations.
Steven Covey  however warned organisations in his last book, “You can have talented people and a superb strategy and still fail. Many do. The reason? It's rarely for a lack of plans or vision. It's bad execution. As simple as that: not getting things done, being indecisive and not delivering on commitments. Close to 70% of organisational failures are due to poor execution, -talking a lot but poor at finishing.”

Why do we have this problem of lack of execution?

  •  No Clarity: Do you have clear organisational goals? Would your staff  be able to list your organisation’s most important goals?
  • No commitment: Restructuring initiatives have eroded much needed commitment and focus. Very few key individuals truly embrace the organisation’s goals. Do your employees feel committed to the goals of your organization?
  • There is no line of sight between organisational goals and the work people do: Only one in five employees has clearly defined work goals, and one in 10 clearly understands how his work relates to the organization's top priorities.
  • No focus on priorities: People want to contribute to achieving the important goals of the organisation but cannot because they are consumed by less important priorities. By their own account, people spend less than half of their time on crucial organisational goals. Key individuals spend most of their day on urgent but irrelevant tasks or pointless bureaucracy.
  • No accountability: Employees are rarely if ever called upon to report on progress or lack of progress. Do people really feel the responsibility to perform? What are the consequences for underperformance or  non-conformance? Serious issues fall through the cracks and errors go uncorrected.
Photo credit:  Neal Cooper (CNP Safaris)

Steven Covey said that “organizations that execute with excellence focus on a few clear objectives and align the focus of every worker and work group to those few goals. They are then held accountable to ensure that it gets done.
Let’s rephrase: Your organisation can only execute its goals when its people are clear on the goals, committed to them, empowered to achieve them and accountable for them.
Got smart people? Got a vision? Good for you. Now, what about your XQ?”
Remember "Ideas and plans are a commodity.  Execution is scarce and requires a form of intelligence". 
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