Book Review: Ruthless Execution

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Ruthless Execution
by Amir Hartman

Prentice Hall Financial Times ©2004
223 pages

What to Do When Your Company Hits the Wall

When an organization’s growth strategies and business models are no longer working and the business seems to have “hit the wall,” business expert Amir Hartman has a plan that can help companies move beyond adversity and prepare for a rebirth of success. To share the lessons of recharging growth and innovation he learned while working with companies like IBM, Novartis and Cisco, Hartman describes the ways leadership, values, governance, cost control, productivity and priorities can make a difference when planning a resurgence.

To help stalled companies choose the best strategy for renewal, and execute that strategy with clarity and tenacity, Hartman presents a plan of action that rebalances performance and growth, promotes accountability, optimizes metrics, and promotes discipline without creating bureaucracy.

Hartman begins his book by defining ruthless execution as the method and strategies that business leaders employ to break through performance walls. The tough times and business reversals that comprise these walls accompany the sad fact that, according to Hartman, “Companies no longer can assume a steadily upward pattern of growth.” He explains that 257 public companies, with a total of $258 billion in assets, declared bankruptcy in 2001, which is far more than the 176 companies with $95 billion in assets that declared bankruptcy just one year before.

Recovering From Rude Awakenings

Hartman argues that there are controllable ways to cause reversals of unfortunate downturns. He explains that an inability to focus and execute is usually at the heart of stagnation, and there is a way to keep companies in dire straits from laying off thousands of people and canceling plans for future growth. Ruthless Execution provides instructive guidelines on how organizations can recover from rude awakenings by studying the actions of the business leaders who have pulled themselves through tough times.

Hartman explains that there are specific ways leaders have overcome their struggles with declines in fortune. After three years of research into uncovering these elements of successful turnarounds, he developed his theory of ruthless execution as a framework for guiding business leaders through the reversals that inevitably and frequently occur. By studying companies from a diverse set of industries, company documents, research reports, financial data, and interviewing key business leaders, Hartman developed case studies that advance his ruthless execution theory. He writes that he discovered that in times of uncertainty, “business leaders who have succeeded in breaking through various walls have outperformed their peer groups with respect to relative market share growth and stock price performance.”

Hartman writes that engaging in ruthless execution means business leaders have the time and opportunity to investigate issues, and act on them. Business leaders who have broken through walls, he explains, have tended to be very fact-based and analytical in their approach to problem solving. This has required them to be patient when making decisions in tough times.

Strategic Recalibration

To describe the strategies that make up ruthless execution, Hartman has framed them in three distinct categories: leadership, governance, and critical capabilities. He explains that no single strategy will automatically help a leader break through a wall, but leaders can validate the direction and focus a company is going to take. Hartman helps them identify and focus on key places where resources can be realigned so the company can more effectively balance between performance-oriented and growth-oriented efforts. He writes that those who engage in this “strategic recalibration” must rearrange their portfolios of business initiatives and set a course for the direction their companies should take.

Hartman argues that leaders in stalled companies must devise a well defined business philosophy that captures employees and keeps the company on the right course. Devising a guiding business philosophy, like Jack Welch did as CEO of GE, can help a leader offer guidance on what a company is all about at a given moment.

To frame the rules for recalibrating a business, Hartman writes that leaders must operate within the governance framework, with accountability, performance management and discipline as the primary strategic drivers for determining how to make the recalibration process work. Once they have implemented the necessary strategies, he explains that leaders must put in place a number of critical capabilities, including productivity management, talent management, and focused corporate transactions. ~

Why We Like This Book

Throughout Ruthless Execution, Hartman describes not only the strategies that can help leaders cope with business slumps, but he also provides numerous case studies that show how a company used one or more ruthless execution strategies in a real-world setting. Helpful bulleted points and an easily accessible design make his book a helpful addition to any challenged organization’s essential supply of ideas for rising above tough times. ~

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