I am a fan of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden’s books and his “Pyramid of Success” philosophy. In particular, I have found the book Be Quick—But Don’t Hurry to be an especially handy and useful reference. This book devotes a chapter to each of Wooden’s secrets of the pyramid of success. I recently reread my copy to review some of the concepts and  how they might relate to the idea of strategy alone not being enough. While all of the “secrets” are informative, two—“be quick but don’t hurry” and “balance is everything”—are especially useful in terms of their applicability to an organization’s balance and alignment of business strategy.

But what does the thought-provoking phrase “Be quick but don’t hurry” really mean? Coach Wooden struggled to define the difference between quickness and hurrying. In simple terms, what he meant is that if you hurry, you are more likely to make mistakes, but if you’re not quick, you won’t get things done. As in basketball, a business’s ability to achieve speed while maintaining good control and focus on effort is essential.

This concept can be applied to implementing a business strategy with realistic goals and expectations. Consider carefully the pace at which a strategy can be successfully and fully implemented. Being quick involves creating a culture and mindset where there is a commitment to a path for action, often in the absence of perfect information, while constantly moving forward. It is also important that the team understand that it is okay to make mistakes, as long as the mistakes are quickly acknowledged and rectified so that momentum is not lost. The goals are to remove hesitation and indecisiveness, replace them with focused energy and action, and guard against wasting time on activities that will not produce results. As learning occurs along the way, the path should be adjusted accordingly.          

As Coach Wooden relates in the chapter “Balance is Everything,” “If you do not have physical balance, you cannot be quick. To have physical balance, it must be preceded by mental balance and emotional balance,” or the result, he says, will be “hurrying.” Applying this to strategy implementation, a strong connection can be made between balance and alignment. An organization or team can have the best strategy in the world, but if all the players are not aligned toward a common goal, success will be a struggle. Balance can be achieved through the proper use of metrics. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen organizations try to implement strategy and drive change without making sure that how people are measured and rewarded is aligned with the strategic direction.

The Nolan Company has had extensive experience and success with balancing measure and reward systems so that they align an organization with strategy. When done right, it is very powerful in terms of driving the right behaviors. Conversely, when done wrong, it very surely will drive the wrong behaviors.

An example of a poorly aligned measure and reward system comes to mind. The organizational strategy was focused on expense reduction, whereas the measure and reward systems in place were focused on revenue-generating roles with revenue-focused metrics. Non-revenue-generating functions did not have incentives, so nobody was being rewarded for reducing expenses, the main organizational strategy. This performance measure and reward imbalance created a major disconnect between desired strategy and actual behavior, which drove a culture that protected the status quo.

Implementation of a new strategic direction requires that the team and organization be balanced so that they can react and adjust to inevitable changes and obstacles and keep going forward. Such balance can be achieved through measures and rewards that horizontally and vertically align an organization to achieve the desired goals.      

Armed with the best strategy in the world, an organization must still be positioned to successfully execute it, which requires realistic goals, an understanding of the correct implementation pace or “quickness,” a focus on effort, and alignment of the organization with the strategy. Coach Wooden’s “secrets” provide valuable insights that your organization may benefit from as you implement your strategy. Remember, be quick—but don’t hurry when executing your strategy.