The Execution myth: ‘Be lean’

Strategy execution confusion occurs where different leaders try new initiatives in succession in reactive mode. The result is effecting interventions before they are effective. It is both costly and ineffective.

Uganda telecom is one such company that has experienced the misfortune of free-wheeling opportunism – a tendency to try to react to the markets, to tap into any opportunity without establishing clear capabilities and systems to support sustenance.

The red flag for this is the ever changing people at top leadership. UTL has had high turnover at the top level, changing over six (6) CEO’s within a period of five years. Such changes in an environment of lack of a clear strategy are disaster.

First was a CEO whose background was engineering. He did well at new product innovation, pioneering the introduction of 3G technology in the Ugandan market then. However, he lacked the skill of appreciating the importance of marketing and sales. The results were poor product uptake. A year later, MTN launched the same product and it was a huge success. Why? They understood that a great meal is a result of a great cook and a server. You have to excel at both.

The challenge of frequent top leadership changes is that it puts the organization in reactive mode. A new CEO comes with their own ‘strategy’ and ideas of how they will make it work. This calls for change of focus.

Cutting costs across the board is always the first call. In the process, key capabilities are starved while over investing in non-critical businesses and functions. Such is the myth of going lean.

Costs should always be cut to grow stronger. This requires pruning what doesn’t matter most and investing in what matters. The challenge is always, how can a new CEO listen to the business needs to identify what matters when what is on their mind is finding quick wins, trying to be different?

To avoid execution challenges, ask;

  • What is the most pressing issue?
  • How do we solve it as a team without undermining our current achievements?
  • What is the ideal set of activities to undertake going forward?
  • What would have to be true to succeed?

Understanding the perspectives and context of business are critical for ongoing success. Leaders with the mindset of improving the existing achievements instead of undermining it, tend to add maximum impact and improve the business fundamentals of revenue and profitability growth.

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