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A Relentless Focus on Execution:
Move Beyond Clichés with Baldrige Excellence
by Craig A. Anderson
August 2005

"Execution" has emerged as the next big thing in modern management, with
executives promising a "relentless focus on execution" as they search for ways to
improve competitiveness and achieve better results. We fully support the idea of a
focus on execution (even if not "relentless") but our observation is that this idea too
could become just another cliché if it is not embedded into an organization's DNA.
Fortunately, Baldrige Excellence can help, providing a systematic process for
ensuring that execution is not just a slogan, but a driving force for your entire

Interestingly, at this year's Baldrige Examiner training, execution was one of four
major themes highlighted along with sustainability, innovation, and ethical senior
leadership. A major goal of the Baldrige program office is to ensure that "the
Criteria should always reflect the leading edge of validated management
practice;" it looks to us like once again they are right on the mark.

In any case, how can Baldrige Excellence drive execution throughout your
organization? Here is a quick snapshot, organized by performance Category.

Category 1: Leadership
Senior leadership sets the stage by defining execution as a key priority for the
organization, and commits to staying the course and measuring accomplishment
over the long haul.

Category 2: Strategic Planning
Last month we discussed the importance of basing your strategy on a realistic
understanding of the current state. This is vitally important here. You must have the
capacity to execute. Your strategy must address your organization's ABILITY to
execute. Plans without methods are useless. Execution also requires the capacity
to change direction quickly; build this capacity into your strategy. Finally, be
realistic about your competitors; find and address GAPS in your performance
against competitors.

Category 3: Customer Focus
Execution is about meeting and exceeding CUSTOMER requirements--keep your
eye on the ball here. Baldrige Excellence is impossible without defining customer
requirements and ensuring that these requirements are reflected in your core
organizational values, processes, and results.

Category 4: Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
This Category is the coordination point for your systematic effort to improve
execution. MEASURE your execution in all key areas. REVIEW performance and
respond quickly to changes in your environment. DEPLOY priorities to suppliers
and partners; execution demands teamwork. SHARE and IMPLEMENT best
practices across your organization. A relentless focus on execution means a
relentless focus on better information and communication up and down your

Category 5: Human Resource Focus
Execution is the result of PEOPLE working together more effectively; make sure
you align your core human resource management practices with your
organizational execution focus.

Category 6: Process Management
Your execute through work processes; ensure that you build AGILITY into your
process design, and that you have the RESOURCES in place to deploy your work
processes at the right level of execution. This links to your strategy and vision:
don't overpromise and under-deliver because your operations and business
investment are not adequate for the task.

Execution matters. A recent survey of US CEO's found that three out of four US
CEO's believe that "execution of chosen strategies requires more improvement
than does development of strategies." We are convinced that the holistic,
self-assessment approach of the Baldrige Performance Excellence System can
provide a clear path to improvement in execution for visionary leaders and
organizations who understand that there are no shortcuts to success.