Execution - Erase "MAYBE" from your lexicon...

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

If you know anyone who has come out of the General Electric "machine", you will have undoubtedly heard of, and/or experienced a "Workout". The original workouts came into being as Jack Welsh, the CEO, was working to right General Electric; they went something like this*. A team (without the leader) would meet to review all the issues that needed to be answered to progress various projects, mandates or agendas forward. The leader would then join them and systematically answer their questions with "YES do it", or "NO don't do it", or "I will get back to you with a YES or NO answer in a week". This implemented action.

There is a "truism" regarding effective execution - All action is derived from either the word "YES" or the word "NO" -  any other word will lead to a vast array of inaction. As a quick illustration**, lets look at the manual outlining what to do if you see a strange "flying saucer like thing" in the air. I'm sure it doesn't read like this:

  • "YES" push the red emergency button. (action)
  • "NO" don't push the red emergency button. (action)
  • "MAYBE" push the red emergency button. (what exactly do you do with this?) 

If you look at any process map or decision tree, there is never the option to choose "MAYBE"... it is very hard to know what action to dive next when you hear the word "MAYBE" (or any derivation of it). About now, someone may be saying, "Wait a second, sometimes you have to say "maybe" because of a lack of information, poor timing, lack of resources, etc". These reasons, really justifying saying "NO", with a perspective as to what action is needed next to stop what is being done, or to garner a YES decision. "YES" and "NO" drive the process forward... "MAYBE" keeps everything in a holding pattern - Spinning and spinning.

"YES" and "NO" are also great data points to measure execution effectiveness. The more you find "NO" being used as part of the decision making process, the greater chance you may have skill set issues, resource issues, time management issues, misalignment with goals, risk tolerance issues or a culture that struggles to drive action - If you hear "MAYBE", you can guarantee you have one or all of these.

There is also an ambivalence that comes with the word "MAYBE"... it will insidiously compromise decisiveness, which is so important in good leadership and will also feed the emotion of regret; the words "woulda, shoulda, coulda" will stick to you.

So throw the word "MAYBE" away! It will serve you well. Things will get done.


* I have not experienced the original "Workout" but have been involved in many of its "workout cousins" ... sometimes affectionately called a "deep dive".  I've also simplified this and taken a little artistic licence to stress the point. 

** This flying saucer sighting example struck me funny. Apologies if you didn't think so.