Execution Is a People Problem, Not a Strategy Problem

Execution Is a People Problem, Not a Strategy Problem

From Peter Bregman’s article in the Harvard Business Review comes a great reminder to orthodontists: your problems implementing new strategies or following-through on the tried-and-true is not a strategy problem, but a people problem. Doctors from all over the globe fly to Kansas City to spend a consulting day with me and, without fail, the topic of “getting my team to do what I ask” leads them down a rabbit hole of changing the strategy.  I tell them the same thing Bregman demonstrates in this article: you don’t have a problem with the strategy, you have a problem with the people you’ve set in place to execute it.

Do this: the next time you get an executive course manual from the nearest business school, look for courses on strategic thinking. You’ll see them by the boatload. Now, look for a course on strategic acting. You’ll likely find none. There’s a reason I was the least popular student in my MBA courses. I was the one person who refused to call strategic planning, strategic “planning.” I called it strategic guesswork.  The reason is clear: even the best laid plans are worthless if you can’t motivate and manage people to implement them.

I have used my five-step “people process” for over a decade to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the businesses of my clients and my own privately-held companies. Though this post does not provide sufficient time and space to fully explain the five step process here (nor am I shy about the fact that people pay me $20,000 for a day of consulting, so I have zero interest in posting it here for free) I will share with you the right frame of mind so that you can implement actual change in your business and get results, not just plans.

First, stop communicating your plan the way you’ve been communicating. It might be too much communication or not enough communication. I would have to observe your practice and see some data to help direct which error you’re committing, but you probably already know the answer. Rather than focusing on communicating more and more to your team about what needs done, starting doing something. A famous general once said, “If forced to choose between having the perfect plan or making some movement, always choose movement.”  Why? Because it’s easier to redirect something in motion. It’s damn hard to get the troops moving in the first place. So change your focus from telling to doing.

Second, make sure you’ve clearly defined the outcomes you’re going to measure. There’s no use moving the army around if you don’t have a mission, goal or ultimate aim that will determine success or failure. I see too many orthodontists over-communicate their plans, under-execute those plans and then never measure the results. That’s a recipe for insanity.  And failure.  Massive failure.

Instead, make sure the team knows where they are headed. Set achievable goals and measure them. Report to the troops frequently. Make a game out of the tracking of results. Celebrate every win and quickly redirect the ship when you see it heading in the wrong direction. No matter how small or how big the goal, you won’t reach it until you’ve properly defined it.

Finally, identify and delegate to the highest-impact people. I have no shame in telling clients and my own employees that 10% of you will be the type of people who stay late, volunteer for projects and take the lead, shouldering 90% of the responsibility. They also know that the bottom 10% of my company routinely gets fired, so we have an extremely competitive workforce that is driven on producing results. Why shouldn’t we? You don’t get invited back to join the basketball team if you never show up for practice.

Unfortunately, most orthodontists spend the majority of their time trying to get the bottom 50% to behave like the top performers. Why waste your time? Spend more time with your winners. Let the time-clock-punchers do their thing. Focus on your highest-impact people and let them drive the change, manage the time-clock-punchers and step up to the plate to deliver big results. If more clients would focus on doing rather than telling and measure clearly-defined objectives through the efforts of their top performers, I would probably be out of a job as a consultant.


Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.