Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit the Wall

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9780131018846: Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit the Wall

Today's business leaders need a radically different skill from their recent predecessors: they must know how to know how to manage through adversity while preparing their companies for a new rebirth of success. In Ruthless Execution, Amir Hartman, author of the bestselling NETREADY, identifies the central ingredients that help certain companies to get beyond the wall and thrive--and show how to instill these ingredients in your organization. You will learn when and how to recalibrate the balance between performance and growth; how to define a coherent, tightly-drawn business philosophy that maps to specific actions; new ways to promote accountability and business alignment; and how to use performance metrics without burying people in meaningless trivia. Also discover how to promote real discipline: the ability to get the job done quickly, efficiently, and effortlessly--without bureaucracy. Next, you learn how to develop stronger "critical capabilities" for understanding and managing complexity. Along the way, the authors present case studies of world-class enterprises that have used these strategies to achieve breakthrough success. Watch John Chambers maneuver Cisco through the telecom collapse; Lou Gerstner impose powerful new discipline at IBM; Harry Kraemer realign Baxter with transformed markets; Dan Vasella transform Novartis through mergers; and many more...all unified by one central factor: ruthless execution.

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About the Author:

A leading global authority on corporate and technologytransformations, Amir Hartman is also a bestselling author and SeniorFellow at the Harvard Business School Interactive and Berkeley's HaasSchool of Business, where he teaches in their Executive MBA programs. He is the Founder and Managing Director of Mainstay Partners in RedwoodCity, California, which provides strategic services to business leadersin such companies as HP, Honeywell, Oracle, and Office Depot. Asought-after speaker to forums of senior business leaders, Hartman is the author ofthe books Net Ready and Search for Digital Excellence.

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Preface

Ruthless execution is the method and strategies that businessleaders employ to break through performance walls. My friend and formerpartner, John Sifonis, and I first employed this term in 1996 when wewere doing work for Hewlett-Packard (HP). Subsequently, the phraseappeared prominently in our book Net Ready (McGraw-Hill, 2000) as a wayto sum up the actions key to getting a company "Internet-ready." Duringthe research process for this book, and in searching for a way to"package" my findings, it became clear to me that the same term capturedthe essence of the strategies that business leaders execute to overcometough times.

Few books exist on tough times and how to deal with them. Books onAmerican corporate life have tended to proffer advice on how to steer abusiness to success and glory. For the past two or three decades, as thestock market drove skyward, as the economy went from strength tostrength, as business theorists argued that growth was good, businessleaders craved roadmaps that assured them of the same success thatothers were enjoying.

Authors of business books have focused on the strategies and thekinds of culture a business needs to do well. They have largely skippedover the topic of how to cope with business reversals. As long as theeconomy prospered, no one cared to write about--or read about--the morbidsubject of business reversals.

That has all changed now.

With the advent of a turbulent economy, with the increasingrealization that business resembles a roller coaster more than a rocketship, with more and more companies plummeting from their peaks, a new,painful fact of life in business has become clear: Companies no longercan assume a steadily upward pattern of growth. Invariably, companiesare going to get into trouble from time to time, enough trouble for theups and downs to become a consistent pattern. Accordingly, books onbusiness subjects must deal honestly and realistically with thesereversals and offer some practical ways to overcome these setbacks. Thatis precisely what Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do WhenTheir Companies Hit the Wall does.

To be clear, this book is not about fixing companies in crisis.Crises such as fraud or bankruptcy often require a slash-and-burnapproach and intense media management. This book is about gettingstalled companies performing again. Companies are going to get intotrouble for all sorts of reasons, scandal being just one of them. Theplain truth is that most large corporations--over 90 percent of allpublic companies--suffer rude awakenings from time to time; indeed,setbacks happen to these large enterprises frequently. Large,established companies can become compla-cent; they may become toobureaucratic to innovate; innovative enterprises may favor hyper-growthat the expense of discipline and rigor. When companies find themselvesstagnating, it becomes time for their leaders to engage in ruthlessexecution.

What is meant by ruthless execution? It means the way leaders andtheir teams behave, or in other words, the strategies they must adopt tobreak through the wall.

The strategies of ruthless execution are framed in three distinctcategories that are already part and parcel of every executive's dailylife: leadership, governance, and critical capabilities. Within each ofthese categories, a number of practices will be elaborated on throughoutthe book. There is no suggestion that engaging successfully in any oneof these strategies automatically allows you to break through a wall.The idea is to point out the common ingredients (or practices) thatbusiness leaders who have figured out how to break through the wallshare.

Leadership frames the specific actions that drive strategicformulations, and to a degree, the characteristics that business leadersneed to overcome business reversals. The focus in the leadershipcategory is on strategic formulation.

Governance spells out the rules of the game; it deals with issuessuch as the way decisions get made and the discipline that leadersimpose on their teams.

Critical Capabilities are the specific actions that executives driveto break through the wall. Critical capabilities are veryaction-oriented. They are the critical skills and delivery capabilitieswith which business leaders need to be equipped.

Throughout this book, case studies will be used to illustrate aparticular ruthless execution strategy. The introduction of each casestudy is framed around a moment of time when the subject company hassuffered a reversal. These studies show how the company in question usedone or more of the strategies to cope. You can benefit by employing onestrategy or another in your own efforts to emerge successfully from areversal.

Lastly, in Chapter 12, I introduce a Ruthless Execution Index. Thisindex can serve as "sign posts" for business leaders who want tounderstand where they can improve their Ruthless Execution. I encourageyou to revisit these practices on a regular basis.

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