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The DIY Leader

Would you agree to be operated by a great doctor whose rate of fatality in a surgery is 90%? Then how is it sound advice to join organizations or invest in companies that only achieve 10% success in implementing strategies?

In their book “The Balanced Scorecard” authors David Norton and Robert Kaplan note that 9 out of 10 companies fail to execute their strategies.

It’s important to note that the statistic does not say that 90% of organizations have bad leaders or underperforming employees. So, if it’s not the capability that’s under question here, then what is it?

Take this into consideration, 2 candidates competing for a promotion. A is a proven employee with 5 years of experience and B, who is much more creative but has only been with the company for 2 years.

If A gets promoted it would be because of the length of his service, and if it's B, then it would be because of creativity.

The objective of that example is not to help us decide who is more “promotable” it is to see whether it makes us feel that we had enough information to make that decision.

If “length of tenure” was enough of a characteristic on its own, then why aren’t the oldest organizations in the world the most profitable. If “capability of ideation” was enough, then why did Ask.com, a website where your questions get answered by experts fail, even though it started 2 years before Google did?

Does the cause behind that massive rate of execution failure then lie in things that we do not think have obvious value? Things like how colleagues like working with A and how B’s team, even though the most successful, has the highest attrition rate in the company.


Therefore, is it then the combination of the leader’s capability and how they allow their directions to be shaped by the organization and the people in it? Can that be called the “art of execution”?


For me and my mentor, it’s definitely that and beyond, we call it “Orchestration”, thanks to our love for music. 


Here are few things to consider from this style:


1)  An orchestrator may not necessarily compose but she understands every element of the composition.


JF Kennedy may not have created the spaceship to send a man to the moon, but he made sure that everyone at NASA, including the man who was responsible for sweeping the floor, knew that their job was to “Help put a Man on the Moon”.


Similarly while building a plan, a leader may not have the right answers required for the same, but she will ask the right questions to find out from all the right sources, and will do enough to understand each and every assumption of the plan. This gives her the ability to share the plan with many more people and get them to believe in the big picture or future.


2) She has the ability to break down the composition into individual score sheets.


When Louis Gerstner decided to transform IBM from a legacy hardware business to be the “Solutions for a small planet”, it was not just an idea on paper. There was a well thought out plan on how this one common brand theme will be for all IBM products and services around the world. Which SBU will focus on which technology solutions, how people will be rewarded for getting things done and what will be the top priorities across teams in the organisation. Without a clear breakdown of the plan, transforming IBM from ‘survival to success’ would have been a far-fetched dream. Don’t you think so ?


Unless the big plan is broken down into clear granular and manageable components, it will never become a reality because it can’t be handed over to people for taking the ownership of making it happen.


3) She has a brilliant understanding which score sheet must be played when and by whom


This is one area where many leaders think it is too operational for them to be involved. But wouldn’t we expect an orchestrator to ensure that everyone is playing to the same tune and getting in and out of the composition at the right time to create the desired impact? Similarly, it is very much the responsibility of a leader to focus on how specific things are getting done, questioning whether they are being done on time, tenaciously following through to make sure reviews are done and feedback is getting implemented.


While Steve Jobs’ ability to think, intensity and single mindedness is often cited as the reason behind where Apple is today, without Tim Cook’s focus on getting ‘people and operations right’, would it have been possible to achieve the status of the world’s most valuable brand?


The most important (and special) thing about Orchestration is that it is based on identifying the best musician for each score sheet.

Just imagine someone who is trained to play the keyboard is being given the job of playing the guitar, what a disaster it would be. He may still manage the job, but will he give his best, will he enjoy the job, will he continue to do it again and again? Each person has his own strengths, things that they are good at and are genuinely interested in.


At EQUiTOR we call this as ‘focusing on the 5%’ , the ability to understand what is intrinsically good about a person or an organisation and using that as the basis to help them build a different version, rather than fixing the existing flaws.


Outstanding leaders always have a very good idea about the strengths of the people they lead and therefore can very quickly see what they can become in the future. And once an individual sees where you take them, they NEVER give up on you till you are strong and confident enough to reach that destination.

Co-authored by Ekta Das and Tarun Chakraborty.