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Execution Trumps Strategy

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Having a great strategy without execution is like steering a car that isn’t moving. Pointless. 

Isn’t it interesting how many classes, seminars and workshops there are on creating vision, goals and strategy but how few there are on execution? What good is a great strategy that never gets implemented? 

One of the fathers of total quality management is W. Edwards Deming. He famously said, “Blame the process, not the people.” 

I just watched a movie about the early days of the McDonald’s franchise called The Founder. Fascinating. If ever there was a company that has perfected the process as much as humanly possible, it’s McDonald’s. They consistently churn out the same exact product in hundreds of very diverse countries across thousands of locations for millions of people. The idea that you can get the exact same hamburger with no variation in Denver as you can get in Hong Kong on any given day is astounding. Amazingly, that burger can be made by a teenager recently trained and working for minimum wage! That’s process at its finest. McDonald’s does not depend on the genius of individuals. It rests solely on the genius of process.   

So, how? How do we go to work on the process? 

I have recently discovered a great book called The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. As I started reading this book, written many years ago, I was thinking, “Where have you been all my life?!” It resonated immediately. I won’t go into all the reasons why I experienced love at first sight with this book but above all I love the action orientation of this book. The ideas in this book link the best of vision casting, goal setting and strategy to execution, implementation and traction. 

Here's how it is currently playing out in our shops:

First there has to be a “WIG,” a wildly important goal.

For us, that goal is efficiency. How do we dramatically improve our touch time? How do we move more cars through the same square footage more quickly while maintaining quality?  

Secondly, that goal has to be time bound.

They talk about writing goals as “x to y by when?” So there is a clear starting point, a clear ending point and finally a clear date on when that will be accomplished. For example, on efficiency it can take the form of increasing a 2.5 touch time to a 5.0 touch time by December 31.

Third, there have to be clear lead measures and lag measures.

This was a fascinating part of the book for me. I had never heard these ideas before. A lag measure would be something like, lose 10 pounds in the next two months. But the reality is that if we just work on that measure by weighing ourselves every week, all we are doing is recording the results we’ve already gotten. However, a lead measure is something that is totally within our control and moves the needle on the lag measure. A lead measure might be something like, eat 2,000 calories or less daily and walk on a treadmill four times per week. Those are clearly things that will affect our lag measure. 

In our efficiency goal, we don’t just measure the outcome each week and then try to get people to work harder or faster. Remember what Deming said? Blame the process, not the people. So we go to work on lead measures like, “Are we mirror matching parts as they come in? What is the percentage of cars that we did a thorough disassembly on before writing the supplement and ordering parts?”

Fourth, only work on 1-2 goals at a time.

This is where it requires discipline to weed out all the good ideas and focus only on the best one or two that have the highest leverage and return on investment of time and effort. This can take the form of having everyone connected to accomplishing the goal by announcing the one or two weekly goals that move us closer to our efficiency goal.

What we’re finding to be true and the book confirms this as well, is that the first obstacle shops face is,“We don’t have time to work on these types of goals! Don’t you see the whirlwind of estimates we have to write? Fires we have to put out? Customers that need to be called? Supplements that must be written?” And on it goes. They call this “the whirlwind.” And it’s true, there is a lot that needs to get done to keep the shop afloat. And this is why we can only work on a couple goals at a time. Ninety percent of the job of managing the shop is always going to be “the whirlwind.” It’s how we invest the other 10 percent that makes all the difference.

Imagine if you and your management team took a disciplined approach with that other 10 percent and got very focused on a couple high leverage goals and actions every week. What could happen over the course of a year? There’s almost nothing you can’t do over a reasonable amount of time with a highly focused goal coupled with discipline and accountability.

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