The Secret to Business and Workplace Success? It’s Getting Stuff Done

Sometimes, the most complicated questions have the simplest answers.

This can be a little hard to comprehend because we’re conditioned to believe that complexity requires more complexity, a lesson that may have sunk in for me back when I was taking higher math classes as a kid and got freaked out by the humongous equations.

But, it also infects the business world and the talent management arena, too.

I used to have a boss — let’s call him Steve — who seemed to be obsessed with what the “strategy” was for my area of the business. Never mind the fact that HE really didn’t have a coherent strategy for anything, but he drove me (and my managers) crazy with meetings, required memos, and all manner of discussions that were designed around formulating a strategy that he approved of.

Strategy? It’s about “doing things”

I thought I had gotten there on many occasions only to have him pooh-pooh what I thought was a good strategy with a dismissive, “that’s not a strategy, those are tactics” response.

Clearly, this guy had read one too many business books, because my less-than-clear (to him, anyway) strategy seemed to serve my area of the business pretty well. In fact, if the strategy for the entire business (Steve’s responsibility) had been as effective as my departmental strategy was, well, let’s just say that the business would have been a whole lot more successful.

This reminds me of the immortal words of Herb Kelleher, the former CEO and visionary who made Southwest Airlines the huge success that it is today. Herb was/is a great business thinker, but he didn’t have much use for a lot of highfalutin talk about business strategy.

In fact, when people asked Herb about his strategy for Southwest Airlines, he always had this simple answer:

We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”

Those wonderful words of wisdom from a true business innovator should remind us all that so much of what passes for deep business insight these days is just BS, because the essence of business is execution, or as Herb Kelleher would say, “doing things.”

Innovation? It’s about getting stuff done

That’s why these words of wisdom from this week’s You’re the Boss blog in The New York Times resonated with me, because they spoke to the simple wisdom that one needs to really drive business success. As author Cliff Oxford put it in a discussion about the notion that we must all “innovate or die” —

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“Innovate or die” is an expression you hear tossed around a lot. It tells me quickly that the people using it are not really all that innovative and in most cases do not know what it takes to build a fast-growth company. When the fast growth starts to fade, as it always does, the problem is rarely innovation. More often, it’s an inability to do the things that have to follow innovation. It’s really about getting stuff done.

Getting stuff done means packaging, selling, delivering and collecting the money to increase revenue and profits. If you are best in class at getting stuff done and use creativity to reduce complexity and chaos, you just may have yourself a fast-growth business. But if you do, you will quickly learn that the biggest risk to your business is not that it will die because you stop innovating — it’s that it will die because you fail to rein in your innovating and start executing.”

A proven track record

Yes, just like strategy is really all about getting things done, as Herb Kelleher says, innovation is about “getting stuff done,” as Cliff Oxford puts it.

Hmmm, these sound very similar, don’t they?

In fact, Oxford’s blog post echoes the simple wisdom of Kelleher in that he makes the point that we all get too caught up in the weightier discussions sometimes and forget that when it comes to success in life, whether it be in business or anything else, executing the basics, getting things done, and moving ahead are the essentials we all need to focus on.

It’s easy to forget this when you consider the flood of business books that are written each year that purport to have some new insight or solution to some  pressing business and workplace problem. Yes, some of them have good ideas worth considering, but before you go that route, how about focusing on the basics of the business a little more?

Yes, “getting stuff done” isn’t the kind of message that will sell a lot of books, but it’s got something going that all the other new business strategies are dying for — a proven track record of success.

Getting stuff done? Hey it works. What could be better for your business, and workforce, than that?

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.