Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is YourCo relying on Magic Genies?

Dream it and it will surely happen, somehow!

Ok, I’ve mentioned it a few times so it is about time I blog about it --> Faith Based Execution.
Simply put, faith based execution is execution that is not grounded in reality. It relies on supernatural forces and things unseen. If I were to say that I’m going to the moon but I have no propulsion vehicle or ticket with a space service then it isn’t likely to happen. Simply put, saying it’s so doesn’t make it SO! Or, words alone are not an investment.

Faith Based Execution is not new. For eternity, people across the planet have used words and actions to inspire others to get behind them in pursuit of the next big thing, whether that was a new religion, persecution of a people, building a canal or a new product, or the formation of a new government. Whether or not we value the outcomes of various historical initiatives one thing is clear, the ones that actually happened were indeed rooted in reality. That is how they happened. They didn’t rely solely on powerful, persuasive orators and other magical forces.

John F. Kennedy rallied people around the idea of going to the moon in his “man on the moon” speech, May 25, 1961. On July 20, 1969, almost six years after JFK's death, Project Apollo's goal was finally realized when men landed on the Moon. It was Excellence in Execution, not Faith Based Execution. [for relevant excerpts please visit the Kennedy's "Man on the Moon" Speech post]

From Wikipedia…[ “At the time of Kennedy's speech, only one American had flown in space — less than a month earlier — and NASA had not yet sent a man into orbit. Even some NASA employees doubted whether Kennedy's ambitious goal could be met.[14]
Answering President Kennedy's challenge and landing men on the moon by the end of 1969 required the most sudden burst of technological creativity, and the largest commitment of resources ($25 billion), ever made by any nation in peacetime. At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities.[15] ]

Many current and contemporary examples of Excellence in Execution abound but I use the “Man on the Moon” example and the subsequent Apollo program because of its historical significance and it continued impact on science and engineering. It also epitomizes “Thinking Big”. Kennedy backed up his visionary speech with well placed bets and then marshaled the resources of an entire nation. It is interesting to think about the fact that this was all accomplished in an early state of computing and communications. This was BG, BM (the last one doesn’t sound so good), meaning before Google and before Microsoft. In fact, Michael Dell was a whopping 4 years old when Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. landed on the moon.

Think of the possibilities when you combine Big Thinking along with the state of communications and computing today AND then Excellence in Execution. Perhaps a well coordinated Open Innovation initiative that marshaled the nation’s resources could cure Cancer, solve the climate crisis, and other vexing problems.

So why do I give this “Faith Based Execution” practice a name and call attention to it in the 21st century? Easy, because the costs associated with Faith Based Execution are burdensome, wasteful, and distracting. Faith Based Execution in companies burns out employees at all levels, diminishes the quality of products and services offered and subsequently the experiences of customers. It also burns precious capital, and most importantly prevents us from Thinking of and Solving BIG problems that matter. Think of less crap in landfills and more meaningful products, services, and experiences. Think of BIG, no BIGGER problems to solve.

This is more important than ever, given the state of the global synchronized recession, climate crisis and security crisis. And with organizations running leaner than ever we collectively need to be grounded in reality based execution. If you go from 300 employees to 50, should you have the same blind faith that things will get done at the same pace and quality? Of course not, unless your 50 are Magic Genies. But, last I checked that would only give you a combined total of 150 wishes granted. You might still need to temper your ambitions.

Obvious lagging indicators for Faith Based Execution is things don’t get done at all or on time or at an acceptable quality level. But, there is a leading indicator as well. I call it the Nearest Neighbor Phenomena. It turns out in resource constrained environments people like to look to their neighbors as an additional resource that might be able to get stuff done. After all, if I am at capacity then why not tap my neighbor. Problem is, everybody is at capacity, including your neighbor. And, if your ask isn’t one of your top priorities then it is hard to imagine why is should be #1 for your neighbor. Record the magnitude and frequency of Nearest Neighbor requests and you have a leading indicator that lets you know your strategy is going down the path of Faith Based Execution.

Other ways to ferret out Faith Based Execution includes creating an Execution Audit that identifies execution gaps. Then you have some choices, you can decide to accept those gaps, leverage outside resources that can benefit by closing them, or prioritize to close the gaps. But above all, please don’t have the blind faith that these execution gaps will be closed by magical forces not on the payroll. Thinking magic is Faith Based Execution and it is sure to disappoint stakeholders and ultimately, yourself.

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