Excel at Execution

When researching Chess Not Checkers, one of the truths that emerged almost immediately was the widely know fact: High Performance Organizations Excel at Execution. Although the chess analogy offered little opportunity to share football analogies, once Randy Gravitt and I began writing the Field Guide, we knew we would include some reference to Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Few leaders have ever understood the power of execution as much as Lombardi. In Lombardi’s own words, “Every football team eventually arrives at a ‘Number 1’ play, a ‘bread and butter’ play. It is the play that the team knows it must make go, and the one its opponents know they must stop.” For Lombardi’s Packers, their play was the power sweep. “We’re going to create a seal here, and a seal here, and run the ball in the alley.”
Lombardi believed football was more about the fundamentals of blocking and tackling than about elaborate schemes and strategies. The Packers’ resolve to master the simplicity of the sweep helped them win five World Championships in seven years.
One of the main reasons High Performance Organizations are successful is they Excel at Execution. Like a great football team, they understand the power of blocking and tackling … doing the critical things extremely well.
Think about some of the most recognizable organizations in the world. Disney has a great reputation for their strong values. But if the rides didn’t work, the parks weren’t clean, and the crewmembers were surly, people would care very little about their values. Likewise, if the packages didn’t show up the next day, FedEx would be in trouble. Clearly, their ability to execute and deliver sets them apart from the competition.
When it comes to execution, there are three best practices High Performance Organizations embrace. First, they Master the Fundamentals. They challenge people at all levels to work on the little things, searching for continuous improvement. Next, they Share the Score. Like a scoreboard in a stadium, great leaders keep the metrics in front of their team members at all times. They are never fuzzy about what they are trying to accomplish. Finally, great organizations Raise the Bar. They are continually pushing for a higher level of performance, never satisfied with survival.
Is your organization focused on the fundamentals? Does every team member know how you are keeping score? Have you established a culture that leads to continuous improvement? If the answer to any of those questions is “No,” rest assured you will eventually have an execution problem.
A word of warning … Occasionally, leaders are tempted to focus only on execution, meanwhile ignoring leadership, alignment, and matters of the heart. Such a mindset is flawed. A gymnast on a balance beam cannot focus only on the dismount, knowing the entire routine is what creates energy and momentum to enable her to stick the landing. But beware, the judges always pay special attention to the dismount ... and so do your customers. Your organization will ultimately be judged on your ability to execute.
Yes, greatness is available to you and your organization. It hinges on a decision - the decision to Excel at Execution![GLS_Shield]
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