By Ritch K. Eich

Almost every day we read about a CEO ouster, a logo change that backfires, or a product launch that fails to live up to its hype.

As a young sailor, I was taught how to salute properly, and how to wear my dress blues and summer whites correctly. Later, as a naval officer I was reminded regularly that details matter and can be the difference between life and death. It should be no different in business—business leaders need to learn early to “sweat the details.”

From my more than three decades in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, it has been my experience that the reasons for most failed executions are one or more of the following:

  • The chief executive doesn’t view execution as one of his or her primary roles—that’s someone else’s job. As a result, no one else takes execution seriously and it fails. Implementation of core strategies has to start at the top—it cannot simply be delegated.
  • The executive team is content to delegate execution to others in the organization, thereby isolating themselves from the day-to-day challenges that can impede success. Executives often avoid those directly involved in implementation because they consider their principal responsibility to be strategy, not execution. This behavior sends the wrong message.
  • Meetings are painfully and unnecessarily long, with those in charge often too deliberative or indecisive. Valuable time is wasted discussing mundane and pointless subjects that don’t impact the overall success of the project. Instead of actively participating, attendees are checking their cell phones—and execution suffers as a result.
  • The use of specific, easily understood metrics are rarely used in evaluating initiatives. If metrics are used, they drive the wrong behaviors. For example, sales figures instead of profitability can mask production or other problems.
  • Performance reviews become routine instead of being used to improve performance and reward truly exceptional execution.

Too often the wrong people are kept in the wrong jobs, compounding problems. How many times have you seen the wrong person in the wrong position because it’s easier to keep the status quo?

Execution is a competence that must be embedded in the culture of the organization. It is a major responsibility for which the chief executive must be held accountable by the board of directors and shareholders. As today’s investors continue to actively involve themselves in corporate governance, they will expect successful execution instead of excuses.

If you watched the recent battle for the NCAA football crown between the University of Alabama and Ohio State University, you witnessed two teams whose fundamentals were nearly flawless. Whether it’s a sports team, a locally owned business, or a Fortune 500 company, having the right people in the right positions with the right experience is critical to successful execution.

Actor Jeff Bridges may have said it best: “Execution is everything.”

Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D. (Michigan), is former chief of public affairs for Blue Shield of CA, U.S. Naval Reserve captain (ret), and author of five books on leadership including his most recent Leading with Grit, Grace & Gratitude: Timeless Lessons for Life. Eich has served on more than 12 boards of trustees and directors. For more information, visit