By Jeff Auston, March 9, 2015

What Really Drives Execution, Anyway?


All businesses celebrate great execution, that moment where you finally hit the goal you’ve been building toward for months or even, sometimes, years. It’s a tremendous feeling when you come together with your team and everyone hits a goal that felt, at one time, distant and nebulous. It deserves champagne. But the question I sometimes find myself asking is why certain goals are easier to execute, why some successes seem more attainable, why some initiatives enjoy the steady progress that portends a happy ending.

And the more I think about it, great execution isn’t about that final moment or even the preparation. Not in so many words. What I believe was actually informed by a two day offsite I took a group of my technical leads on last year. I was hoping to gain some insights around how we can get better at execution, more efficient at how we do things together, and more aligned as an organization to pull in the same direction. Mat Greenfield (Team Building and Leadership Development Consultant at Brilliant Talent) led the workshop and was incredibly helpful moving us toward reaching our goals.

At the conclusion of Mat’s sessions, I realized how critical vision and purpose are to determining the right course for Execution. Without either, your teams’ execution falls flat or you solve less important problems and provide less vital solutions for your customers and team.


What exactly it is that we’re doing, stated as clearly as we can. Vision sets a framework that defines what success looks like.

In the workshop, Mat used the famous example from 1962 where President Kennedy publicly stated that the US would put a human on the moon by the end of the decade. It was utterly audacious, overly ambitious, and apparently thought to be impossible by the scientific experts at the time. However, what this vision statement did was to challenge an entire community to focus their expertise on a single success criteria. As history tells us, once people overcame their fears of failure, they aligned in ways they had not considered.

Vision tells us what we are to do.


Why are we going to buy into our vision? Buying in requires a compelling, crystal clear statement about why we are doing it.

I can think of many times in my career where I’ve supported a vision but not known clearly why that vision was important. And, to be frank, it becomes really hard to motivate teams to perform at their highest levels if they don’t buy into the vision.

In professional sports, the vision is obvious–win the championship. The reasons are clear: bragging rights, trophies, money, fame. In JFK’s 1962 speech, the purpose felt clear as well: beat the Soviet’s to the goal, advance our collective self esteem by proving we are the most innovative people on the planet, and derive a greater perspective on and fragility of our planet and what it means to be human.

Vision is nothing without a purpose behind it.

I am a changed person from having gone to Mat’s training class because I now see that before you can figure out your execution strategy, you have to put the time, effort, and passion into clearly articulating your vision (make it big, glorious, worth it), and most importantly, your purpose (make it compelling!). Once those are in place, execution falls into place. When we’re aligned on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, actually rolling up our sleeves are getting work done is part of something bigger. And who doesn’t want to do something truly great?