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The Art of Execution

Defining your goals is only half the battle; here's how to get them accomplished.

Most entrepreneurs think that raising money is the hard part. They're wrong. It's the fun and exciting part. The real work begins after you raise money because then you have to execute. Here's how:

Create something worth executing. It's hard to stay excited about executing crap. It's easy if you're changing the world. If you and your team are having a hard time executing, maybe you're working on the wrong thing.

Set goals. Not just any kind of goals, but the right goals. The right goals are:

  • Measurable: Quantifiable goals include shipping deadlines and sales volume. This affects your number of goals because you can't measure everything.
  • Achievable: Take your "conservative" forecast and multiply it by 0.1. If you think you'll sell 1 million units this year, set your goal at 100,000. There's nothing more demoralizing than setting a "conservative" goal and falling short. Instead, make your goal 10 percent of your forecast, and blow it away.
  • Relevant: For a software company, it's not your ranking on search engines; it's the number of downloads of your demo version.
  • Rathole-resistant: A goal can be measurable, achievable and relevant but still send you down a rathole. Let's say you've just added content to your website. Your (measurable, achievable, relevant) goal is to sign up 100,000 new registered users in the first 90 days. But what if 100,000 people register, visit once and never return? That's a rathole. Make sure your goal encompasses all the factors that will make your organization viable.

Postpone, or at least de-emphasize, touchy-feely goals. Touchy-feely goals like "create a great work environment" are bull-shiitake. Companies that execute on measurable goals are happy. Those that don't aren't. As my mother used to tell me, "Sales fix everything."

Communicate. For goals to be effective, they have to be clearly communicated to every single employee.

Measure progress weekly. If you don't measure your progress toward a goal, you might as well not set it. The optimal frequency of reviewing progress is weekly. Monthly is too little pressure; daily is too anal.

Establish a single point of responsibility. If you ask employees who is responsible for a goal and no one can answer you in 10 seconds, there's not enough accountability. Lousy employees avoid responsibility. Good employees accept responsibility. Great employees seek responsibility.

Follow through on a goal. Many organizations set goals and even measure their progress. However, some goals tend to fall off the radar because people start focusing on just the coolest stuff. For example, fixing bugs in your software may not be quite as interesting as designing a breakthrough product, but it's just as--if not more--important to your customers.

Reward achievers. This has two positive effects: The achievers become even more excited about doing their jobs, and the underachievers know the company takes execution seriously.

Establish a culture of execution. Execution isn't a one-time push toward achieving goals--it's a way of life. The best way to establish a culture of execution is for you to set an example of meeting goals, responding to customers and measuring employee progress.

Heed your "Morpheus." Morpheus in The Matrix gave Neo the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. He was basically the adult supervision. Cold, brutal reality is the ally of execution, so find a Morpheus who distributes the red pills and enables employees to see things as they really are.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.

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This article was originally published in the September 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Art of Execution.

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