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How the Green Bay Packers redefined strategy execution – and what businesses can learn from it

Fred Pidsadny headshot, March, 2015By Fred Pidsadny

Unstoppable. It’s what opposing coaches said of Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers of the ‘60s, the iconic football club from small-town Wisconsin. Over a seven-year time span, the Packers out-executed team after team, one rich franchise after another, en route to five world championships – among them the first two Super Bowls – and the unofficial title of most storied franchise in NFL history.

Today, sports fans still wonder: How did they do it?  How did a small-town team with just one win the year before, and a new, unproven coach, manage to turn it around to beat the NFL’s finest?

The answer, I believe, rests in coach Lombardi’s unique insights on strategy execution – and his hyper focus on winning. Business leaders today would be well advised to use Lombardi’s philosophies to move their own strategies forward.

Let me explain.

lombardiCoach Lombardi believed in the relentless pursuit of excellence. He was an execution fanatic, and trusted that executing the basics, over and over again, would win the game. He believed that the ‘right play’ would come to personify the heart and soul of the entire team.

How right he was.   Shortly after taking the helm, Lombardi instituted a relatively simple play, involving teamwork, called ‘the sweep’. In the play, the quarterback hands the ball to the running back, who runs the ball to one side of the offensive line. The offensive line then acts as blockers, allowing the running back to gain important yardage.

The sweep, arguably the most simple in all of football, became legendary. NOBODY could stop it. Even though opponents knew the Packers were going to use it – and indeed, developed defensive strategies, none worked. The sweep was unstoppable.

How many business leaders would like to have organizations that are unstoppable?

Lou Gerstner, the CEO credited with turning IBM around, once said that great companies prioritize and practice the most important strategy of all: execution excellence. “They out-execute their competition, day in and day out, in the market place, in their manufacturing plants, in their logistics, in their inventory turns, in just about everything they do. Rarely do great companies have a proprietary position that insulates them from the constant hand-to-hand combat of competition.”

According to Harvard Business Review, most companies do not execute their strategies well and since 2008 it is getting worse. What an opportunity for those companies that can get a little bit better than their competitors! You don’t need to be faster than a lion, just faster than the guys behind you.

PackersWhat’s the key to great strategy execution?  Time and again I’ve learned that it’s not about fancy processes, pricey work-style assessments or systems to drive efficiency.   These can often hide people who are doing the wrong stuff.

It’s about the fundamentals. It’s about executing the basics, over and over again, with accountabilities that are clear, concise and undeniable.  It’s about each person understanding the company’s strategy so well that they know what they need to do each and every day to help move it forward.

Vince Lombardi understood the importance of complete and laser-perfect alignment to a strategic plan.

It’s what made him and his Green Bay Packers so unstoppable.

Fred Pidsadny, Founder and President, FOCUS Management, Strategy Execution Specialists, Toronto. www.focusmanagement.ca. He can be reached at 905 945-0782  or [email protected]

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