Why is Execution hard

Everyone knows that culture eats strategy for lunch, but whats the one thing that ultimately tanks your strategy ? Execution !  Or dare i say the lack of execution.

Literally hundreds of books are written on the subject, but i’ve found in my own management experiment it boils down several things ;

Firstly , execution is not sexy ! it doesn’t do press briefings, it doesn’t have pr statements, quite frankly its the dirty work. Its waking up everyday to face the exact same set of circumstances despite your best efforts. Its daily staring at failure in the face, and picking yourself up to come back and fail again. Its grunt work, sometimes its just pressing on through the drudgery of mundane tasks likes email, and writing reports, and updating schedules.

Secondly, it sits in that valley of hard work, and waiting. When you have given your all, and yielded zero results, but having to wait for actions of others upstream, or downstream or vertically or horizontally because no good thing is executed in isolation. Waiting has its virtues, but its also one of the hardest things to do, sometimes your timing is just not in sync with the reality of your market, and despite your best efforts no amount of pushing, sweating , pleading or screaming will move the needle.

Thirdly, its also about conversations. Those simple dialogues and interactions that need to happen between partners and colleagues. The most damaging thing about not  having the right frame of communication within a team is what is left unsaid. When someone makes a statement that is not clear to you, but adds, “you know what i mean ?” and you nod along when you have absolutely no idea what they are on about. That right there is the number one killer of execution!

Communication is not just about passing on your message, its also about hearing. Both parties have an obligation to ensure not only is the one heard, but the other is understood.  What is left unspoken, is often the very thing that can move you from point A to  point B. Often we are so enamored with sounding clever and knowledgeable that we loose ourselves making pretty empty statements, that don’t yield a response from our audience.

Lastly, and perhaps the most critical thing, is decisions !decisions! decisions! We are always afraid to make the wrong one, but often its the ones we don’t make that really hold us back. It could be a fear of failure, procrastination, whatever makes you sleep better at night, but it all boils down to this, every decision you make takes you one step closer to achieving your goal. Even the wrong ones, because ultimately they help you identify the right decision to make. Take the risk ! but by all means don’t waver between the hot and cold valley of indecision.

There you have it, my ultimate list for closing out 2018 with a bang, its not sexy, it wont kill you to wait, talk to each other, and make one decision today that takes you closer to your desired tomorrow.


Can dissent in a team be good ?

My new hypothesis on what really delivers inspiring results from teams is that a lot more rests on how leaders respond to their people than in how people work.

There is often the dangerous narrative that organizations are failing simply because the people are not productive, or that they are not engaged.  While this can be true in some organizations, time and time again however the organizations that seem to succeed show that how leaders get their teams to perform is less about the people’s abilities and more about how leadership inspires  the team to deliver. The problem for leadership that does not work often lies in hubris and the danger of a single narrative.

We love the story of the super star executive that comes into an organization and turns it around with their overpowering personality, and knowledge. Whipping up the entire organization into a well- oiled execution machine. But this is rarely the case. In fact superstar egos are the main cause of hubris in  an organization. Self-confidence due to past successes, that causes you to be blind to your weaknesses or flank. Hubris means ‘excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance’.

Hubris causes leaders to be blinded and seduced by their success.  They stop seeking new information, listening, and learning. The praise of those who surround them, makes them believe that they alone know what is best, to the detriment of those who disagree with their “vision”. Often described as rigid and authoritative, they are no longer receptive to feedback from subordinates.

Hubris prevents disagreements with the leadership that may potentially save an organization.  This is where the danger of a single narrative metaphor for me comes in. There is enough room at the table for everyone’s ideas and inputs.

In this TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie, clarifies it so clearly. It’s about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. In short, defining an experience based on a single account gives us incomplete, potentially damaging understandings of other people.

Today’s leadership needs to have a place for dissent, and internal conflict management. For a team to commit to a path, they need to weigh in, and be heard. They need to disagree respectfully for the good of the organization. It’s good to have a spanner thrown at your work sometimes. Nobody likes a villain right?  But have you considered though the role of a villain in any one of your favorite books, or movies and how they were critical towards molding the hero’s character?

We may call them critics, some detractors or naysayers, but for good or bad, there is a necessary role in life and business for those who do not see the world in the same way that we do.  Businesses that don’t have a view of their blind spots, end up the way of Kodak and Nokia.

According to this HBR article on how management teams can have good fights, the alternative to conflict is not usually agreement but rather apathy and disengagement, which open the doors to a primary cause of major corporate debacles: groupthink!



How to Be a Rebel and Build a Business at the Same Time

How to Be a Rebel and Build a Business at the Same Time

This is inspiring, to be in the company of rebels

In 2016, our CEO sat down with the authors of “Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making” for a candid conversation on what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Africa.

This is a except from the interview:

You started working for several ISPs and in 1998 decided to make the transition and start 3Mice. Why was it the right time?

By the time I left Strathmore school, the desire to become an entrepreneur – like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and like the Netscape founders – had already settled in, up to a point of no return. The basic direction, the highest level where one could go in terms of ambition as a technology person had settled. 

What did it mean for you to be an entrepreneur?

 I think I am a rebel, self-directed maybe, but a personality that likes to have their own mind about things…

View original post 1,286 more words

The business of ethics

My friend always says that to survive in emerging markets, you need a good dose,of vitamin P . Which stands for polital correctness. Taking your vitamin P means sanitizing your truth to accomodate the inept, the incompetent, overcoming bureaucracy with platitudes to meet your goals.

In a world where might is right, its the writers dilemma always what to say without causing ripples. Just this week president elect Donald Trump held a meeting with news media executives in what has been reported to have been a dress down on their coverage of the elections and him.

It must be something to be called into the room by the leader of the free world to get a dressing down for what you believe to be truth. Its no less dangerous in the corporate world and political realms of doing business in Africa.

But a writer must be honest, he is an observer, a survivor of the war that is the human condition. He must recount its horrors, its victories, its casualties alongside the fear of being misunderstood as well as reprimand. The writer is an artist, and art as a reflection of us can be both comforting and disturbing.

I take comfort in Chinua Achebe’s words in an interview, “those who tell you do not put too much politics in your art are not being honest. If you look carefully you will see that they are the same people whom are quite happy with the situation as it is..what they are saying is don’t upset the system.”

Its time though to upset the system that profits from corruption and unethical behaviour. We should not be at ease with the abuse of authority, and power. A time will come when you have to stand for what you believe in. Businesses are not immune  from standing up for right,turning a blind eye today does not immunize your business from facing the effects of poor governance, abuse and corruption tommorrow.









is your strategy disruption proof?

Its the last quarter of the year, everyone’s planning for 2017. But whose strategy is going to hold in the coming turbulent year.

Strategy is often times confused with  planning, but strategy is much simpler, it defines the long term direction of an organisation.Its not just what you intend to do, but must also be clear on what you will not do.

My imagination was captured by this article on the demise of Kodak at HBR, that  is a must read for anyone in business. Kodak’s downfall wasn’t about technology. Their problem wasn’t that they had not identified the shift to digital, they had in fact invested billions in a new range of digital products.

Their problem was in doing the right things. Which can also be said to be a question of strategic drift, that tendency for strategies in an organisation to develop incrementally on the basis of history, but fail to keep pace with a fast changing environment.

More recently also in the news is Ericsson’s decision to lay off nearly 3,000 workers in Sweden, and close to 900 contractors. Ericsson said the layoffs are a necessary part of its transformation to meet “fast technology shifts and the digitalization of the telecom industry.”

Put simply, Ericsson is struggling in an area it once had dominance. The  markets they dominated are  now in the hands of the likes of Huawei and ZTE, very strong Chinese contenders.Read more here.

I can’t help but draw parallels with Kodak’s story.  Nokia, Yahoo.   Do you have a strategy that clearly differentiates  from competitors?  How long will that difference last, in a fast changing operating environment ? Are you wired to see and embrace disruption ?

To quote the HBR article “The right lessons from Kodak are subtle. Companies often see the disruptive forces affecting their industry. They frequently divert sufficient resources to participate in emerging markets. Their failure is usually an inability to truly embrace the new business models the disruptive change opens up.”




innovation is more than you think it is

Africa is the home of innovation.Lately you get the feeling that this is driven by the innovations centered around mobile usage and the growing mobile wallets that transact  multiple times above the GDP of the nations they are hosted in.

I love the Fintech space, because we get to call our sector a space, and generate lots of new buzzwords like Silicon Savannah. Facebook, Airbnb,  Uber, Mpesa, are all sexy businesses with millions of users. More importantly they are billion dollar businesses. They generate endless media excitement, and the executives who run them get to dictate what’s cool, whats hip.

Innovation has come to be associated with technology. But its short-sighted to think that the only innovation in a market revolves around mobile money services.  Yes they are revolutionary, they are game changers, and they are changing the ways in which Africans transact and conduct business.

But there are myriads of  creative expressions happening around us, everyday. Sometimes you need to look outside of your own industry to get into the nuts and bolts of creativity. Spend time asking how do the things you take for granted, work.

Recently i heard about a new brand of chicken on the market. Its driven by a farmer who has about 85 out-growers in small co-operatives and how  they are boosting the farmers production capacity to ensure growth in their margins per chicken. When you sit on your dinner table tonight, imagine this, some farmer somewhere is calculating how to grow their profit per chick from 0.30cts to 0.50cts through the kinds of feeding and care they implement on their farms.

Innovation mostly comes from small organisations looking to change the way in which they serve their customers. Its enabled by a growth mindset, a continual search to do  better than yesterday. Next time you see  news about mobile money providers and their innovative “new” idea skip that. They are most likely implementing whats already been done in another market.

The real innovation is happening everyday in the ways we interact with each other, in small companies  trying to gain a foothold in markets previously unknown. Changing rules daily, shaping opinions at the base of the market, if you listen keenly your next break-through idea could just come from a taxi ride to Domboshava!