Block and Tackle, But Know Your Goal

Goal LineIn a classic 1964 football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Viking Jim Marshall recovered a fumble and made an impressive 66 yard return all the way to the end zone.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong end zone, resulting in Marshall handing a free score to his competition when he threw the ball out of bounds.

In business, we’re often told that when times get tough it’s a mistake to over-think. That instead, we should just drive hard to get the ball and push down the field at all costs, but not do anything risky or think outside the box.  Just block and tackle, and play your hardest.  That’s what Jim Marshall did, and look what good it did him.

Competing is tough enough, but in challenging times it’s important not to waste energy running in circles and absolutely critical not to run the wrong direction.  Real wins come from the combination of timely strategy married with measured action.

Run Toward the Right Goals
In challenging times, many businesses contract without even realizing it, actually planning themselves into stagnation, or worse.  How does this work?  By focusing on the wrong goals.

See if you identify with the following.  Many business owners have a “set point” in their minds for the performance of their business, much like you might set a thermostat at 72 degrees and expect it to stay there.  When things slow down, they complain that business has fallen off and seek to “crank things back up.”  Those efforts are often only targeted at a return to the set point, but not on growth.  Sound familiar?

It’s tempting to set goals like preventing things from getting any worse, or returning to a level of business we’re comfortable with.  Such goals, though, can hide the change that may be needed to make a business truly viable and even thriving.

A better goal is to plan – strategy and action – around emerging from challenging times stronger, better, and poised for growth.  Anything less is like running toward the wrong goal and perhaps even scoring points for your competition.

What is your company’s vision for the year ahead?  Do you have a clear, defined, communicated vision guiding your path?  If not, why not?  Priorities, time, or do you get bogged down in the mechanics of putting a plan together?  Now is the perfect time to hold your strategic planning event and point your entire team in one direction, aiming for growth.

Listen to Your Team
I have to believe that when Jim Marshall made his now infamous dash to the end zone, more than one of his teammates would have stopped him if they could have.  The message from Vikings fans, too, would have been clear, if only he’d have taken the time to listen.

I tell stories about business owners I know making what I call the “silent walk of hope.” It’s that daily march to the mailbox, praying more checks have magically arrived, all the while trying to hide their worry from their team.  Yet those employees may hold the key to taking the company in new directions.

My practice is founded on the principle that some of the best sources for building new success and developing solutions come from within the company.  As you plan your goals and seek solutions, don’t go it alone.  Get help, and include your team in the problem solving process.  What are you doing to draw out ideas from your staff?  Do you know how?

Make the Hard Hits.  Right Now.
Sometimes it really is time to block and tackle – to make the no holds barred aggressive changes for the better of the company.  If your team is having the debate over whether you’re reaching that line in the stand, let me make a suggestion: check behind you.  You may have passed the line.  In challenging times, it’s easy to wait too long before getting creative enough, or aggressive enough.  If you still can’t decide, ask a trusted colleague, or seek help.

Reach Your Goals
Get crystal clear on what your goals for the year ahead are, and where they lay.  Elicit your team’s support in charting the course.  And take immediate action to plan for greater success, not business as usual.

In case you’re wondering, the Vikings still managed to pull out a win in their game, and with this winning formula, you can too.

Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at

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