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by Michael Sansolo

It’s a completely accepted tenet of business: execution always matters more than strategy.

A business guru made the point simply many years back. A great strategy poorly executed always results in failure, while a flawed strategy that is well executed can still produce positive results.

So for a moment, let’s examine two marvelous elements of relentless execution and the lessons they offer.

Start with the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which just recorded its 104rd consecutive victory. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote a piece recently highlighting the team’s stunning run of excellence

Jenkins’ column on the team laid out the incredible discipline and system behind the entire program, to a point that UConn simply keeps winning despite losing its three best players a year ago and starting the season without a single expected All-American.

As Jenkins wrote, “UConn’s trademark pouncing execution is the thing to watch.” It comes from focused practice of basketball’s most nuanced plays to ensure they are done correctly each time. “They do nothing casually—ever. And they take advantage of every casual thing by their opponent,” she wrote.

Success in sports relies on such discipline. I recently visited three baseball teams in the midst of spring training and saw another version of this same theme. Most memorably, I watched the highly acclaimed pitchers on my beloved New York Mets (along with the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals) spend hour upon hour practicing the most basic of fielding drills; catching ground balls and throwing them on command to different bases.

There’s a good reason for that. No one will remember the season the Mets are about to have based on these simple plays. But there’s no way the team can possibly have a great season without them.

Sports teams run those boring basic drills for a simple reason. The repetition breeds good habits so that in the heat of the moment players do the right thing almost reflexively. In the case of UConn, good habits have produced great results. (With the Mets, I can only hope.)

And let’s remember that no one on UConn or the Mets really needs these drills. All these players have been playing their sports for years and certainly have achieved significant mastery of their skills. What’s more, practice is no guarantee of perfect execution.

Yet teams recognize that practice brings more than that. It serves as a reminder that big victories come from small steps and that all skills are sufficiently significant to merit attention.

Obviously, business isn’t so simple. The playing field is never quite as neat or measured as in sports and the measures of success never quite as simple to observe. Yet the lessons of discipline and practice would still seem to apply.

It could be as simple as repeated reminders of key elements of customer service or company goals. Consider how to make reinforcement and repetition of what matters a near constant exercise.

Sure, practice won’t make it perfect, but it may make many things a lot better.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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