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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Execution Hurts (Put A Little “Fight” in Your Mission!)

There is a valuable strategy lesson in the (very brief) personal story below, please stick with me for a minute…

I participate in a local recreational, non-contact ,hockey league (most people call it “beer league”). In one of our games last year, I challenged an opponent to a fight. For those of you who know me, you’re probably thinking that doesn’t sound like me at all, and you’re probably a bit disappointed in my judgment. Those of you who don’t know me are probably thinking “typical hockey goon!”

Now, before you rush to judge, let me say that my actions earned me my first penalty in over two years. I am simply not a fisticuffs kind of guy and I don’t usually let my emotions get out of control during competition, even when hacked, slashed or otherwise pushed around.

Here’s the strategy lesson in this…

Most organizations (and the consultants they hire to facilitate and guide them) are good at planning strategy. Whether it’s done in-house at management/staff meetings, at fancy board retreat and planning sessions, or through a very extensive and involved stakeholder consultation process, most groups can come up with a decent set of goals, priorities, objectives, etc. to give them a sense of direction.

For many organizations and businesses the real problem is not in the planning but in the execution. Having a clear goal is great but unless you are willing and able to get your hands dirty and fight it out in the real world, your planning is mostly busywork.

Execution Hurts!

The challenge is that it’s in the execution of strategy where most of the discomfort lies. It’s where you have to actually work to engage, build and maintain real relationships with your customers and/or clients. It’s where you have to fight against all of those who want to keep you from achieving your goals (competitors, naysayers, critics, and even disengaged, combatitive and/or just plain lazy team members). And, most of all, it’s where the uncertainty of real life shows itself and mistakes are made.  

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Did you know the guillotine was invented to support a humanitarian, social justice mission? Neither did I…

My near hockey fight is simply a reminder…in the real world, achieving goals is about so much more than just planning. You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work. And occasionally, you will have to take a stand against those who are keeping you from achieving your goals. Yes it can be uncomfortable but think of it this way, if you truly believe in your mission/purpose and goals, then you should find the courage to do what you can to move them forward.
Now I’m not advocating fist fights and physical violence as a solution. My point is simply that if you want to play in a competitive game, you’re going to face opposition and conflict. Even the most noble missions spark a little fight sometimes…

“Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." (John 2:13)

Make no Mistake, Mistakes Will Be Made

Executing strategy means that occasionally you will have to learn from your mistakes after you’ve made them instead of spending all your time planning in hopes of avoiding mistakes altogether.

“It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." (Vince Lombardi)

I’ve been asked by organizations to help them do strategic planning with their group only to find that they already have a set of still relevant, agreed upon, and well-defined goals and priorities that they have yet to complete. In these cases, the answer is not to do more strategic planning. My response is to congratulate them and their previous facilitator/consultant for doing good work in the planning and then encourage them to look closer at what needs to be done to execute the strategy.

The bottom line is this, achieving (scoring) goals requires action and execution, not just planning.  

Key Takeaways:

1. If you truly believe in your mission, don’t be apologetic about it. Be willing to “fight” for it when necessary. That is where true leadership begins.

2. You can’t expect your team/employees to fight for your mission if they don’t know what the mission is. Clarify your purpose. Communicate your purpose. Repeat as necessary!

3. Sometimes “fighting” means reacting to conflict and opposition. Other times it just means being positive and proactive rather than passive.

4. Strategy without execution is nothing more than daydreaming. Get moving. Make mistakes. Take your knocks. Learn from them then get back up and keep fighting.

As always, I invite you to add your thoughts and comments.

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