I think the first sign that we were going back to the fundamentals of execution was when Lou Gerstner took over at IBM. “The last thing IBM needs right now,” he said, “is a vision.’

Hmmm…it appears that Lou hasn’t been wrong about much — Big Blue has sure done well on his watch. So what does that mean for the “vision guys” in the IT business, those who are in (or want to be in) the coveted IT strategy and IT planning business positions? Weren’t these the kind of jobs that led to the top of the IT totem pole?

The decision of Compaq’s board of directors to dump Eckhard Pfieffer as CEO was another sign: “The change [will not be in] our fundamental strategy,” said chairman Benjamin Rosen, “but in execution.” Hmmm.

Execution — keeping stuff working, delivering the goods, making sure the train runs on time. Dull stuff sometimes, but maybe the way of the future? Hmmm…

Fortune Magazine sealed it in their June 21 issue. They ran a cover story on why CEOs fail, and guess what reason Number One was? An inability to execute. There’s that word again. Hmmm…

So I’m a little slow in spotting the trend here, but what the heck — better late than never. Strategy is out, ‘visioning’ is just an expensive buzzword for those who don’t know how to deliver, and a reputation for effective execution is the only way to the top.

So what does this mean for the well-intentioned and career-conscious IT professional? It means that maybe we should stick around and see the project we’re working on to the end before we move on to the next assignment; that maybe we should commit to maintaining the code we write (what a radical concept) and help our clients to cash in on the benefits we always said the system would deliver before we jump to the next programming gig.

Instead of taking a high falutin’ strategy role, maybe we should volunteer to take over the data centre, and stay there until the infrastructure stuff works like a well-tuned machine.

We haven’t seen enough staying put and executing in the last few years. How often have you bounced around from job to job in IT as the result of the latest management whim or trend? How long did the latest trend you were associated with stick, and can you defend the benefits in dollars and cents terms?

Consider the example of that titan of corporate CEOs, GE’s Jack Welch. Fortune says that since Welch took over in 1981, he’s only introduced five major initiatives to the GE companies. Five in 18 years. How big is your organization compared to GE? How many initiatives has your company or organization endured in the same period?

Execution yea, flavour-of-the-month management, nay.

Maybe the HP printer people in Fort Collins, Colo., figured it out a long time ago. Why does every other vendor spend their time trying to catch up with HP’s lower prices and better machines every year? I doubt it’s a “great printer vision” — I suspect it’s the execution thing.

Are the best of us the ones with the brightest futures, the folks who avoid the latest trend like the plague and concentrate on proving their ability to execute, day in, day out, year after year?

I’ll leave you with another interesting stat, courtesy of Fortune: Only two out of the top 10 most admired companies in America have a COO position separate and distinct from that of the CEO.

Maybe the best of the top dogs don’t spend all their time on this vision and strategy stuff, maybe they see effective execution as the most important thing they do. Do you?

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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