Why Are Entrepreneurs Bad at Execution?

Last Updated Jan 10, 2011 2:59 PM EST

Recently I've been following a Linkedin discussion started by business guru, Jim Alampi. He asked the community a provocative question about an entrepreneur's innate abilities or lack there of: Why don't entrepreneurial companies execute better? Why do the passionate visionaries often leading these businesses fail when it comes to developing a plan to make that vision a reality?

Here are some of the sharpest answers from the bunch:

1. CEOs are either big ideas people or operations people -- they're rarely both.
2. They don't have enough resources. So even when a visionary CEO knows he needs to make up for his own lack of execution skills through smart hires, he doesn't have the money to bring on an experienced operating officer.

3. It's fun working on ideas and building products; it's not fun holding people accountable. It requires process, checklists, follow-up, numerous meetings. You must ask a lot of questions until you've uncovered all of the potential stumbling blocks that could get in the way of hitting goals and targets. Simply demanding that something get done will not get it done. It takes patience and unrelenting consistency.

4. They're afraid of failing. It's far easier to state an intention to execute and then put it off, than actually working through it. The latter involves the risk of potentially making a less than optimal decision.

They're all fair takes on why entrepreneurs aren't so great at getting things done, but I have to disagree with most of them.

I agree that most entrepreneurs tend to be a different breed. I know few CEOs who are adept at both selling and operations. (If you can prove me wrong, by the way, give me an example in the comments.) Even so, that doesn't necessarily mean that the answer is to hire a second-in-command to master operations. I've always thought that it's up to the CEO to be responsible for three things: execution, vision, and people. If you're weak on the first one, well then, get to work on fixing that.

The single biggest reason why entrepreneurs do not execute effectively is not due to lack of talent/knowledge or fear of failure -- you can fix or overcome both of those. It's mostly related to #3 above. Entrepreneurs don't have a process for execution, or if they have the process, they lack the discipline to consistently adhere to it. To most visionaries, getting things done -- the selling, the marketing, the deal making -- is drudgery. So they avoid it. That's how I see it anyway, because I feel that way myself sometimes.

Perhaps one of the more interesting comments in the Linkedin discussion came from Jim Hernandez, who took issue with the entire premise of the question. He says that the execution question isn't at all limited to the entrepreneurial set:

"[The question] is more about, why doesn't any organization execute better? One of the biggest advantages I see of entrepreneurs in terms of execution, is they are usually much more nimble in terms of being able to execute and adjust to changes."

So entrepreneurs, in effect, might just be better at getting things done.

What do you think?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user mt 23, CC 2.0

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    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.