Strategic Planning and Execution: Football Does It Better!

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So the NFL and NCAA football seasons have started and are in full swing.  We all know that football (the American version) is a game of strategy or a game of X’s and O’s.  There are many similarities between business and professional football.  Both put a lot of effort into recruiting talent for strong teams.   Both leverage its strengths and expose the opponent’s weaknesses.  Here is where this blog is different from other business to football comparisons.  The major difference between professional football and business is that football does a much better job than business is balancing their strategy planning vs strategy execution.   In fact football has a laser like focus on strategy and strategy execution.  In business the focus is often on quarterly earnings.

If you have read any of our previous blogs you know that we tend to use the following business statistics:

  • 85% of management teams spend less than one hour per month on strategy issues
  • 90% of well formulated strategies fail due to poor execution
  • 60% of organizations do not link their strategic priorities to their budget.
  • 95% of employees do not know or understand their organization’s strategy


After reading those shocking yet true business statistics do you think they would apply to the typical NFL team or Division 1 NCAA football team?  Of course not!  That right there is really my case.  We all watch the NFL games on Sunday (or Monday and now Thursday as well).   That game however is a small piece of the overall work done on strategy and execution.  Game day is all about executing a particular strategy.  Those four 15 minute quarters are all about that.  So a team that is playing say the Philadelphia Eagles who has a quarterback, Michael Vick that is right handed and as good as a rusher  as a passer and therefore very comfortable outside the pocket.  A strategy many teams use against him is to stack the box so he can’t run far and force the pass but across his body to his left making him uncomfortable.  If during the execution of that strategy does not seem to be working the team adjusts and the coaches implement another (Businesses can do this as well with our products).



Businesses do not focus much on the execution at all with only 10% of strategies successfully implemented.  They seem to spend a lot of time at one point in the year on strategic planning where the executive team my take a retreat and look competitive analysis, Porter’s 5 Forces, SWOT analysis, financial projections, etc. in countless PowerPoint slides and Excel workbooks(Please see our previous blogs on White Binder Syndrome or Balance ) that took someone a lot of time to prepare.  At the end of the retreat this plan may or may not be shared with employees and may or may not be budgeted per the stats above.   It is back to business as usual when odds are many employees are spending time on tactics or initiatives that have nothing to do with the current strategy.

strategy planning, strategy execution software


Now contrast that to football.   After a Sunday game the coaching staff reviews the film of the game to look at what the team did well and what they did not do well.  On Monday when the team comes in they go over this film with them and they work on the mistakes.  The coaches then prepare a plan for the next opponent like the Eagles example I gave.  The team spends the week practicing this plan and the coaches make adjustments or course correct throughout the week.    By game time again the team has practiced and prepared the game plan for the opponent and everyone knows it cold.  That is the difference. 


This doesn’t have to be the case for business.  There are tools out there like ours that allow businesses to monitor the execution and alignment of their business strategies and therefore dramatically improve the horrible statistics I listed.  



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