11/08/2013 03:02 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Work on the Execution

Do you remember this old joke?

A man wakes up one morning to find a bear on his roof. So he looks in the yellow pages and sure enough, there is an ad for "Bear Removers". He immediately calls the number, and the bear remover service says they will be over in less than 30 minutes.

The bear remover arrives in a big white pick-up truck and gets out greeting the relieved homeowner. He has a ladder, a baseball bat, a shotgun and the meanest looking old pit bull you have ever seen by his side. The homeowner asks "What are you going to do"? The bear remover answers, "I'm going to put this ladder up against up against the roof, then I'm going to go up there and knock the bear off the roof with this baseball bat. When the bear falls off, this pit bull is trained to grab the bears private parts and not let go. The bear will then be subdued enough for me to put him in this here cage and then the back of the truck". The homeowner was thrilled that his bear problem was going to go away with a few simple tactics.

Before he heads for the house, the bear remover hands the shotgun to the homeowner.
"What's the shotgun for?" asks the surprised homeowner. "If the bear knocks me off the roof, shoot the dog"!

This joke can easily be applied to business: Strategy is important but sometimes the tactics are critical. Most consulting companies present great strategy but lack the tactics to pull the strategy off. For example, usually the great anecdotes or successes training companies present most likely didn't come from the average dote on the team but usually the top performers who are already executing at a high level. Why? It is because a top performer will find the tactics necessary to execute even if they aren't provided. They have the confidence to get outside their comfort zone to try to execute the strategy. However, most of the team will go back to status quo or maintain their comfort zone if the tactics are not highlighted and emphasized and coached to.

This summer, while being bombarded by junk email, one actually caught my eye. I opened it to find a webinar topic that was interesting to me primarily because I personally knew one of the "authorities" on the topic.

My week became very busy and I admit there were numerous times that I wanted to cancel my participation in the webinar. I did, however, prioritize the session as a way to provide myself personal development opportunities.

The subject matter was presented beautifully in theory. But being a skeptic, I made a bet to myself that there would be very few tactics or the "how to" of execution. I was not disappointed. The tactics behind the strategy were never presented. Yes, I understand this was a marketing ploy to get me to want to engage in dialogue with the presenting company. I actually left the webinar feeling that any company silly enough to buy what they were selling, would get exactly what they presented, nothing.

Another case in point is the recent roll out of the Affordable Care Act. In theory (and for many Americans), the idea of affordable health care sounded wonderful. However, having experience the government customer service in both my personal and business life, I was 100% against their involvement in such a critical component of our economy. We don't know the end of the story as of yet but we do know the beginning: they have failed on the tactics to effectively execute the strategy to no surprise to many in the business community.

We all need tactics to bring the strategy to life. Top performers take the time to understand the tactics involved for success. However, most employees are average and average performers need to know the tactics in order to effectively execute the strategy. It is like the offense coordinator in football calling for a pass play to score a touchdown but neglecting to help the receivers and the quarterback understand the specific routes so everyone is on the same page. They all want a touchdown but without breaking down the routes, you will have chaos or more important, lack of execution.

We all need a roadmap not just a destination. Remember that tactics are critical: it is the difference of a bear being subdued or happy home life!

What are some strategies that you or your company has tried to implement that did not get traction or effectively work? What were the causes for the lack execution?

As you think back, were the tactics on how to execute the strategy clearly defined?