Bill is a sailor. Actually, Bill is a damn good sailor. He just won't come out and say it. You won't have to know him long to see that the competitive fire burns bright in Bill to win. I raced (official stint as rail meat) with Bill several years ago on his boat in the Oregon Offshore (a race from Astoria, OR to Victoria, BC). After a few practice rounds on the Columbia River of drilling the most mundane stuff into our heads, Bill delivered his pep talk in complete deadpan, "We are here to have fun. Winning is fun. Losing is not." He let that thought sink in for a few moments. "We are here to have fun. Any questions?"That's Bill pretty much. No BS. Tells it like he sees it. We were talking the other day and he was telling me his plans for winning the Pacific Cup Race (San Fran to Hawaii) sailing double handed with another sailing nut. Double handed is just two guys racing. Ponder that thought for a moment. Two guys sailing a 36 foot boat a couple of thousand miles across the Pacific to Hawaii. It takes about 10 - 12 days depending on the weather, sailing competence, etc. Anyhow Bill was explaining that the race is pretty much won or lost by the 35th parallel which is about 3 days out from San Francisco. After that it's just dealing with the unforeseen; broken equipment, dead wind (isn't that an oxymoron?), squalls, bad sailing. He brought up course charts of past races on the computer and pointed out some of the desperate moves that skippers made in the final days of the race. "Look at that," he said with disgust as he stabbed his finger at the screen, "They were on a perfect course and then did a right hand turn. Idiots. What were they thinking?!" As we chatted about tactics it struck me how similar Bill’s thoughts were to executing business strategy. Most leaders just simply don't stick to the plan. After untold hours of planning, preparation and forethought, brilliant plans fail to deliver because they are not executed. Call it strategic ADHD. Good sound strategy is rarely the most clever. Rather it is the well-executed strategy that wins the day. As I have worked with numerous clients on troubleshooting their organizations, the most common issue I find keeping them from succeeding is lack of focus and discipline to see the plan through. The plan itself rarely needs to change. It drives me crazy to see good plans fail for lack of focus and/or errant decision making. It takes raw nerve to remain focused, so this is not consultant-speak for do as I say and not as I do. It’s a cold hard fact of life that focus gets you where you want to be. Distractions have to be navigated through or around. If you are not making progress with your plan, hold steady before you react rashly and review the Four A’s of Achievement: Appraise the plan from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself, what have we accomplished that we set out to achieve? If you are less than 50% successful in achieving or accomplishing significant implementation on initiatives then face the hard truth – your efforts at executing strategy are just that, efforts. At the end of the day it’s results, not efforts that make the difference. Assess the initiatives for meaning. Often at the root of inadequate commitment and execution is an empty objective. From that perspective of harsh rationality, does the initiative mean anything to anyone but you? Does it really mean anything to you?? Unarticulated reservations and hollow commitment, aka compliance, suck the life out of any well intended effort. If these honest dialogues are not happening among the key team, then the result is groupthink and will most certainly ensure that mediocrity proliferates throughout the organization. Audit your accountability cycle – aka the ability to get ‘er done. Who or what holds you and your team accountable for the results? Developing the behaviors of a high performing organization doesn’t come merely through good intentions. They come from the inglorious and often tedious work of disciplined process and unwavering resolve to accomplish the goal. Action! The actions you initiate in this moment of truth are critical. Don’t be the deer in the headlights. Weigh the action carefully with the intended result and be wary of overcorrecting with drastic action. Granted, hard turns are sometimes necessary, however they are usually very expensive in terms of time, money and emotional investment. The race is rarely won on desperate moves, rather by an overwhelming multitude of small sound decisions. That my friends, is what winning is about.
I think Captain Bill would agree.