You have to call the right plays to have a winning game plan

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In recent conversations with colleagues, I was asked about the difference between a winning game plan concept and regular strategic plans. In research in Harvard Business Review and Forbes, studies indicate that 67 per cent of strategic plans fail. When put into a football context, one might say that the failure rate in sport is higher, since there is only one champion crowned each year. However, head-to-head competition means 50 per cent of winning game plans are successful.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/10/2020 (785 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In recent conversations with colleagues, I was asked about the difference between a winning game plan concept and regular strategic plans. In research in Harvard Business Review and Forbes, studies indicate that 67 per cent of strategic plans fail. When put into a football context, one might say that the failure rate in sport is higher, since there is only one champion crowned each year. However, head-to-head competition means 50 per cent of winning game plans are successful.

During my football career, I have been above and below that 50 per cent success mark. Recently, I came across some of my old Montreal Alouettes game plans. One game plan for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stood out, as it clearly missed the mark, and the Bombers won 58-2.

Interestingly, a couple of other game plans looked very similar and we were successful. While there are many factors to consider, it is the proper play calling and execution by the players that can make almost any plan a winning plan. The same holds true in business. The research I mentioned earlier showed that a predominance of companies fail due to poor execution. How should companies approach the activation of their plans to increase the likelihood of success?

There are three main areas that companies must focus on when executing their winning game plans. First, the right play needs to be called. The company must conduct a thorough assessment to determine the key factors for success. Determining if a problem is being solved or an opportunity is being accessed ties in with the development of the game plan. Identifying a coherent set of action plans with appropriate resources assigned to the tasks are the core elements of your game plan. These are your plays.

Next, the winning game plan needs to be communicated throughout the organization, so everyone knows how their role fits into the achievement of the objective. In football, everyone needs to know their responsibility on every play. During film study, players often notice traits about their opponents that a coach might miss. This insight can help isolate an opponent’s weakness that can be exploited to advantage during the game. This approach to study your competitors and customers should be an automatic in every business, too. Sadly, it is not the norm. Your front line staff know and see a lot of activities and can often identify trends that executive level people cannot. Great leaders know that the entire staff must be valued and encouraged to participate proactively.

Michael Dubowec, president and CEO of CWB National Leasing, leads a team that thrives on execution. Their main offering is leasing finance options to a wide range of customers, from farmers to large manufacturers. He said, “great execution stems directly from having a strong strategic vision while providing a framework that all employees can easily follow. We recently adopted Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which along with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals, allow all employees to execute our vision from both a granular and high-level perspective.”

“Successful companies who focus on execution must also provide empowerment at every level,” added Dubowec. “Our customers require speed and ease to access their equipment financing needs and front-line staff are the key to our successful execution.”

The final step in the execution process is to make the call. Great coaches are confident in their play calling. I have played for and coached with some terrific play callers who are like chess grandmasters seeing several moves ahead. Their winning percentage, committed players and coaches, and an environment that expects success are their mark of excellence. Great business leaders have confidence in their winning game plan and can engage the staff, within a terrific work environment, to execute their responsibilities as needed.

When coaches make poor play calls, players know it. While it is human nature to get upset, professional athletes are expected to do their best to make the play that was called as effective as possible. When a business leader makes a blunder in execution, engaged and supportive employees will do their best to make the decision as successful as possible. There can be adjustments made when the results are analyzed. Staying positive and working together as a true team can help overcome some bad play calls, but not all of them.

An important trait of all winning game plans is adaptability. You have to live with the result of the play you called. But you always have the next play to make something exceptional happen so you can be in the 33 per cent of companies that successfully achieve their plans.

Tim’s bits: The link between successful play calling in football to executing a winning game plan in business is quite clear. The elements required for success in each situation are the same, they are just applied in a different setting. When you build a game plan, it is your execution that can turn it into a winning game plan.

Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.

Tim Kist

Tim Kist
Columnist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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