Category Archives: Execution

Responsibility and Execution

As we move up through management it is our expectation that our responsibilities will increase. We have demonstrated that we can not only handle the responsibilities of our current assignments, but that we can actually handle more. There is also a second axis that is applied along with the responsibility axis when it comes time for personal analysis: the execution axis. Being able to handle increased responsibility, but not being able to execute those responsibilities at an equally high level, or being able to execute at a high level, but not being able to handle the increased responsibilities, will provide you the opportunity to remain where you are and address those aspects of your performance that need work. It is only when both Responsibility and Execution are present at high levels that you get to move on.

I talked last time about Adversity and how my son has dealt with and overcame his Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis a year ago. Now I’m going to look at how he has done it, and what I have learned from watching him.

Most of us get to grow into our responsibilities and learn how to properly execute on them. Admittedly, some are faster learners than others. My son didn’t get the benefit of a learning curve. He didn’t get to grow into his Diabetic responsibilities. One day he is a normal eighteen year old, finishing his last year in high school. The next he is a Type 1 Diabetic, with a daily set of responsibilities, the execution of which affect both his quality of life, as well as his life expectancy.

Talk about having to grow into your responsibilities and learning to execute fast.

Prior to his diagnosis, Diabetes was sort of an abstract concept to me. I knew about it. I even knew a few people that lived with it. When it became real in a personal way, I too had to learn about it.

In business, few of us get to start at the top, with all the responsibilities and the requirement for continuous high quality execution. I suppose there are a few, particularly in privately held organizations, but I think even these have a sort of apprenticeship that comes from being “in the family” and growing up with the transition to be expected.

For most of us we start at relatively junior levels, learn, grow and prove ourselves over time. Situations, environments and even a certain amount of luck come into play. You may be highly skilled but in a mature to stagnant organization or industry that provides a relatively limited number of advancement opportunities. On the other hand, you may be in a growing industry where the opportunities are plentiful.

Good performance and learning the desired behaviors and execution can provide the opportunity for increased responsibility. This increased responsibility is usually built on, or an expansion of the previous role’s responsibilities. This means that you at least usually have a pretty good idea of how to execute on a portion of your new responsibilities.

This is the usual progression. In a new role, build on what you know and have already learned, and leverage it for the new responsibilities and execution of them. If you show the desire, willingness and ability to do this within reasonable time frames and expectations, then future expanded responsibility roles can be available.

Jesse Owens, the four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin Germany, said:

“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”

I think it is safe to say that those games were not his first competition. He trained for a long time. There is no question that he worked hard. He learned and worked his way up through many smaller, and then increasing larger competitions, before achieving his most notable success.

I don’t think there are any smaller competitions, or learning opportunities for my son, or other Diabetics for that matter. One day you are fine. The next you have Diabetes and now are responsible for potentially life altering decisions, usually multiple times a day. There is no previous assignment to lean on or utilize as a jumping off point for your new role in life. It truly is a sink or swim moment.

If you provide your body too much insulin, it can result in Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

“Low blood sugar levels can cause a variety of problems within your central nervous system. Early symptoms include weakness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. … Severe low blood sugar is sometimes called insulin shock. Untreated, it can be very dangerous, resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, or death”

If you don’t provide your body with enough insulin, it can result in Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

“Hyperglycemia is a defining characteristic of diabetes—when the blood glucose level is too high because the body isn’t properly using or doesn’t make the hormone insulin….You get glucose from the foods you eat. Carbohydrates, such as fruit, milk, potatoes, bread, and rice, are the biggest source of glucose in a typical diet….If you have type 1 diabetes, it is important to recognize and treat hyperglycemia because if left untreated it can lead to ketoacidosis. This happens because without glucose, the body’s cells must use ketones (toxic acids) as a source of energy. Ketoacidosis develops when ketones build up in the blood. It can become serious and lead to diabetic coma or even death.”

In business if we do not live up to and execute on our responsibilities, we may end up having some of them taken away from us. If my son provided too much or too little insulin as part of his responsibilities, he could die.

Talk about a negatively reinforced incentive plan.

Normally incentive plans are structured to inspire better performance. To strive. To achieve. We focus on the upside and the opportunity.

His incentive plan has no upside. He will always have Diabetes, regardless of how well he manages it. Or at least he will have it if and until ever a cure is found. On the downside, as I just noted, failure to either execute or accept this responsibility, has a significantly more impactful, and detrimental result.

I have commented on the fact that matrix organizations can have a separation of responsibility, accountability and authority. Accountability and authority reside with the person that is answerable to the task in question. Responsibility resides with the person that must actually accomplish the task. A very simple example of this structure would be when Captain Kirk on Star Trek decides on a course for the Enterprise to take (the accountable authority), and then assigns plotting, navigation and implementation of the course to the navigator (usually Mr. Zulu – the responsible party).

I am not sure of who the appropriate parties would be in this example with Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or any of the other spin-offs. I don’t think I ever really watched them.

In dealing with his Diabetes, my son is responsible, accountable and the authority. He decides what he eats. He tests his blood glucose levels. He decides on and administers the appropriate amount of insulin.

There is no question. He has the responsibility, and must execute at a high level, for the rest of his life. He started in the role, and will remain with it.

Fortunately, he has accepted the responsibility. He doesn’t complain about others with less, or different responsibilities. He knows what he has to do, and isn’t shying away from it. It comes with his new role in life.

He is also executing, continuously at a very high level. His blood tests and doctor’s visits all indicate he has his disease well under control. He is healthy and continues to thrive, much like any other nineteen year old without diabetes. He doesn’t use it as an excuse, or ask for any special treatment (although he is entitled to under the American Disabilities Act).

He just works hard at the tasks he has in front of him and adds the responsibility and execution of his diabetic requirements to his daily agenda.

He has accepted these new responsibilities (even though he definitely did not ask for them), and he is executing on them to the best of his ability. I think his best has far exceeded our hopes and expectations. I am confident that he has learned how to cope with this and any potential future increases in responsibility, and that he will execute on them with the same focus and high levels that he has handled these.

I am immensely proud of the way he has handled it. I don’t know if I could do as well at his age, or any age for that matter.

I continue to watch and learn from him.


I think we need to get one thing straight up front: I am a patient person. I just have an internal clock that seems to run at a faster rate than other people’s clocks. Okay, maybe it runs faster than most people’s clocks. Everybody’s clock? Whatever, I don’t have the time to try and explain it.

I think it is also pretty well known that I am not the world’s greatest proponent of meetings and reviews. Staff reviews, team reviews, whatever, I can lose some interest in them rather quickly if there is not something in them specifically for me. I tend to drive toward very short and succinct reviews, when I have them. I prefer to have people doing things as opposed to reporting on the things they have been doing. It’s funny how you seem to get much more done that way.

Why then, you may ask would someone lacking such an apparent abundance of patience, who does not ascribe to a significant amount of value in reviews say that sometimes they are in fact called for? It all depends on what needs to get done, who is needed to get to do it and when it needs to be complete.

Violet Fane is attributed as having said “All things come to those who wait” as a phrase extolling the virtues of patience. I think it has been modified many times and has entered the language lexicon in many forms since then. I guess in Violet’s world I would not be the most virtuous person available.

Abraham Lincoln is one of those that have been attributed as having slightly modified this phrase and said “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Somehow I have a little bit of a problem believing the man who had such a command of the English language and penned something as memorable as the Gettysburg Address used the word “hustle”, but it seems to have been corroborated on multiple web sites. I guess I will have to go with it for now.)

What I am getting to here is the seemingly diametrically opposed forces associated with wanting to make something happen within our own predetermined time frames and waiting for something to happen in its own appropriate time frame. Sometimes you can push to get things done, and sometimes you can’t. But which is which as these differences can be crucial to both success and sanity.

We have all seen and have been steeped in the idea that leaders “make things happen”. They are movers and shakers. They act. They don’t react. They shoot, move, communicate and repeat as necessary. They never sit in economy coach when flying. We have all come to believe that the way to be a leader and the way to move ahead is to be first on the scene, the first to recognize and respond to a problem, the first with the answer.

In many instances this is indeed the appropriate course of action. In most cases a leader is the one called upon to recognize an issue, either before or after it has happened and to chart an appropriate course of action to either respond to or avoid the problem. They are required to act, solve and move on to the next problem.

When a leader has the ability to directly address a problem or issue, then they have the ability to be the active participant in the solution that we all aspire to be. However there are many instances where the solution or the implementation of the solution may be outside of the leader’s direct sphere of control or influence. In effect many times a leader must rely on someone else to implement the desired solution or take the desired action.

This is a point where mismatch in expectations regarding the desired solution can occur. If the person who has responsibility for the resolution does not have the same priority for resolving the issue as the person who needs the resolution then there will be incremental stress added to the situation. It is always good to remember that just because you have a problem does not mean that other people see the same problem, have the same problem, or even have a problem at all, for that matter.

So not only does a leader need to be able ascertain if a solution needs to be “driven” versus allowed to occur, they must also know how to modulate the priorities of those that must be relied on to implement the solution.

In many instances this may not be a difficult thing to do. If those that are responsible for the solution are on the leader’s direct reporting team then it is just a simple matter to reassign priorities (understanding what is elevated and what is reduced) and moving on.

However if the person responsible for the solution is not on the leader’s team, then the leader must find a way to make sure that the two group’s priorities are aligned. In many instances this can be done by appealing to or aligning with a higher order organizational priority. Priorities such as revenue increases, cost reductions, margin improvements are universally recognized across an organization. Aligning desired activities and solutions with these priorities are an excellent way to make sure that people align with the desired goals.

No one wants their inaction to be pointed out as the reason a margin improvement, or an incremental sale was not recognized. This is probably one of the best ways to get an action from an external entity or individual.

But what happens when a leader needs something done and there is not a higher order priority that can be aligned with in order to get another party to act on the issue? This is the situation where no matter how immediate the leader’s perceived need is, there is no leverage that can be applied to motivate the party that may be responsible for the activity.

A good example of this type of situation is the hiring process. No matter how much the candidate may want the decision maker to make their hiring decision, there really is not much that they can do to expedite the process. The candidate may be in a position where they would like the selection decision made as soon as possible, but the hiring entity may actually be incited to slow down the process in the hopes of attracting more and better candidates for the role to choose from.

So how does a leader get an activity prioritized outside of their own group? The simple answer is patience. A simple clear and concise explanation of what needs to be done and more importantly “why” it needs to be done will be required. An explanation of the time frames and their relevance will also be helpful. The final key will be the agreement not so much on when things will be done, but when the milestone reviews will be held.

No one likes to go time after time to a review that they agree to hold or attend without their deliverable being complete. Knowing that a review is coming and that there is an agreed agenda item that they must provide an update on is normally enough to get people to move on their commitments, even when there is no apparent downside to their non-delivery.

The idea here is that no one likes to be reminded or re-asked to provide a deliverable regardless of whether or not it may be germane to their own functional requirements. This goes for leaders (and the rest of us impatient types) as well. However the patient leader usually needs to only ask once for a deliverable, if they accompany that request with an agreeable schedule of reviews where progress against that deliverable can be reviewed.

Once the desired deliverable has been supplied, there will no longer be a need for the review and it be cancelled, and then everyone can get back to the real work at hand. Most people dislike reviews, so the added incentive of not having the review once the deliverable is supplied can work wonders.

Reviews rarely serve a useful purpose within an organization. If there is good leadership in the organization, there will normally be good communication, thereby rendering a review somewhat redundant. However across organizational boundaries they can be useful as a methodology for inspiring those outside an organization to provide deliverables that are required within the organization. The inspiration being that the responsible party has the dual drive of first avoiding having to report any potential lack of progress on their deliverable, and second knowing that there will be no additional reviews once they have provided their deliverable.

Just as we have heard management say “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, we can now say “The reviews will stop once the deliverable is provided”. Patience and perseverance will usually prevail.

The Optimal Meeting Length

I think that the new business reality is that it is the rare event when something actually gets done without first having a meeting. We need to know who will be Responsible for the action to be taken, and who will be Accountable for taking it, and who will need to be Consulted before it is taken and who will be Informed of its being taken. We will spend hours in meetings in this type of analysis before we actually do anything. We seem to have evolved the business approach that having a meeting about something is the same thing as taking action.

With all this time being spent in meetings trying to decide how to split the accountability and responsibility for doing anything, it got me to thinking: What would be the optimal length for a meeting, not just one of these deciding how to take action meetings, but any meeting?

I looked. There is any number of books available on line purporting to help people run efficient and effective meetings. I was in a meeting when I Googled that so I really didn’t have the time to read any of them. Who knows some of them might actually hold the key. But since we are in the here and now I will take my kick at the can (and utilize some of my own web sleuthing) to come up with what I think is the optimal length for any meeting.

There will be a few meeting ground rules.

• For it to officially be considered a meeting it must be visual in nature. That means that you either have to be there in person, or attend via video. Audio attendance at a meeting only is a phone call / conversation regardless of how you want to describe it, and it enables everyone associated with the call to multi-task doing email, play solitaire, or any other distraction they may so choose.

• If it is a real meeting it will have an agenda. If you don’t have set topics, speakers and time frames it is not a meeting. It is an unstructured discussion, or lunch. Without an agenda you should not expect to get anything done.

• The only computer that is to be open during the meeting is that of the person presenting. Open computers enable everyone to multi-task (see the first bullet above) instead of paying attention to the topic of the meeting. It’s also discourteous to the presenter.

• There should be no refreshments of any kind at the meeting. No bagels or muffins for a morning meeting. No coffee or soft drinks. The object of the meeting participants should be to get something done, not get fed and watered. If you really have to bribe people with food to get them to come to your meeting, maybe you don’t really need to have a meeting.

• Finally, there will be no leaving the meeting and coming back for any reason. No taking phone calls. No smoking breaks. And lastly, no bathroom breaks. Get that done before or after the meeting. Don’t disrupt it by having to go.

I understand that these rules will take a lot of the fun out of meetings. People will actually have to show up and pay attention. I know this is a lot to ask, but I do think it is critical that we get back to the old outdated ways of actually getting things done. Show up. Do your work. Then go do something else.

Now when we are talking about meetings, we are talking about the internal gathering of company employees. They can be called reviews, or updates, or deep dives or just about any other euphemism that you can come up with for having people get together for a business purpose. I will refer generically to all these events as “meetings”.

I am also going to specifically exclude meetings with customers from this discussion for the time being, since those types of meetings are held only with the consent of the customer and at their discretion. Many of the ground rules I have laid out would and should apply, but some (such as food and refreshments) may not.

With the ground rules in place and the meeting defined as not including customers we can get started on how long a meeting should take, or should last, depending on how you want to look at it.

Research (Google) shows that the average person goes to the bathroom about six times a day. That same research also shows that the average person stays awake about seventeen hours a day. Using simple math that means that the average person goes to the bathroom on average once every three hours or so (actually a little less than that). I think this is a good upper bound for a meeting’s length.

Now if we use a little probability theory, because not everyone goes to the bathroom at the same time, we will find that on average for any meeting of two or more people someone will have to go within half the average time frame. That means that our maximum meeting length is now slightly less than an hour and a half.

Even better.

Now on to other research (Google) topics. Estimates for the length of human attention span are highly variable and depend on the precise definition of attention being used.

• Transient attention is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention. Researchers disagree on the exact amount of human transient attention span; some say it may be as short as 8 seconds.

I think it is safe to assume that senior management is more Transient Attention oriented.

• Selective sustained attention, also known as focused attention, is the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. Some state that the average human attention span is approximately 5 minutes; others state that most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 20 minutes at a time, although they can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. This ability to renew attention permits people to “pay attention” to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies.

Attention span, as measured by sustained attention, or the time spent continuously on task, varies with age. Older children are capable of longer periods of attention than younger children.

It doesn’t say anything about executives or managers. Insert your own experience based limit here, however my experience has taught me that they tend to align with younger children.

I have been writing this for an hour or two and I think I need to take a break. I’ll be right back….

Okay, if we accept that people can pay attention to a single topic for up to twenty minutes, but that they can continue to “refocus” on interesting topics in order to stay engaged for longer periods of time, the question now becomes; how many times can they refocus? This is where true science comes into play.

In baseball its three strikes and you’re out.

Asking people to maintain their attention, and refocus multiple times while limiting the number of bathroom breaks is a lot to ask. Asking people to refocus their attention three times for a total of sixty minutes seems to be about the limit of reasonable expectation.

There you have it. A scientific explanation. No meeting should be more than one hour long. If you can’t get it done in an hour then you probably need to re-look at what it is that you are trying to accomplish in the meeting.

I think we all knew this is where I was going with this topic. We seem to have broken our lives down into hour intervals starting with our classes in school. If you can teach Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to twenty five disinterested teenagers within a one hour class, you should be able to have far less than twenty five adult business people come to conclusion on just about any topic within the same interval.

By the way, time does indeed slow down, the closer you get to the speed of light.

This interval sits comfortably within the average need for a bathroom break, and it is short enough that it doesn’t require too many refocusing events. It is the optimal length for a meeting where the objective is to actually get something done. It enables the meeting attendees to get in, get out and move on to the next topic. By limiting the time one would expect (hope) to drive the attendees to come to a conclusion within that time.

If there are more topics to be covered they need to be broken down into other multiple one hour meetings.

Of course, none of this one hour meeting logic applies to how long a luncheon meeting should last.


I have been Blogging for a couple of years now. It may have taken me a little while to become comfortable with the creation, format and process associated with creating a posting, but I thought I had it down. I was familiar with how to do it…I thought.


The old saying is “Familiarity breeds contempt”. I don’t think that is the case. For me familiarity seemed to breed a confidence in my capabilities that resulted in a lack of attention to detail.


I wrote my last article (“It’s Not “What””) and did all of the appropriate and required steps in the process to make sure it was posted. I then went out to all of the various and assorted sites where I announce a new article and updated them. I thought I had done everything. Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I have been doing for the last 2 years.


The only difference was that I normally go out to my site to make sure the article is posted and that it is accessible. For some reason, I didn’t do that last time. I must have gotten distracted, or something else came up. In any event, I didn’t go look. I didn’t double check the end result / finished product.


If I had, I would have seen that I had not in fact posted my article. I had left it in the “Pending” file. I did a great job of notifying everyone that there was a new article posted for them to read, but didn’t close the loop of actually putting a new article out there for them to read.


In the process of becoming so comfortable, so familiar with the Blogging process I created both my own problem and a topic for my next article.


It is hard not to put things on “autopilot” when we are doing something that we have done many times in the past. When we are doing something we are familiar with, we have a tendency to not give it our entire attention. The end result is that eventually a mistake gets made in an area where it should not normally occur.


I would not have thought to talk about a continued focus on the basics and standard processes, but then I would have thought that I would not have made such a basic mistake as not making sure that I had in fact posted my last article.


I will check to make sure that this one does in fact get appropriately posted.

John McKay Was Right

John McKay was a very successful college football coach at the University Of Southern California (USC) in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I am not aware of many unsuccessful football coaches there, but I guess there may have been one or two. Coach McKay was also the first head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers professional football team when they came into the league in 1976.


As an expansion team the Buccaneers did not win a single game in their first season. Despite all the planning, preparation and strategies, they were not able to win. There was a question of the talent that was present on the team, but coach McKay never said that was the issue.


What coach McKay did say is best summed up in a comment he made in response to a question he was asked after one Tampa Bay’s many losses. When he was asked what he thought of his team’s execution that day, he thought for a second and then said…


“I am in favor of it.”


What he brought out, with a sense of humor, is that planning and strategy and talent and everything else is good, but it is the execution, the doing of the things that you are supposed to do, that is the key to winning, or losing.


Making sure you have a workable plan and that you have the best talent are keys to a successful business. Making sure that everyone is executing their responsibilities and achieving their objectives is the key to successful leadership. Your team’s“execution” will be the difference between winning and losing in the market place.