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Blocking and Tackling in the Game of Business
By Tim Fulton

My dad used to love the old Green Bay Packers. Coach Vince Lombardi was an icon in his mind. The reason he was so enamored by the Packers was the way that they won football games. 

“They won the old-fashioned way”, he used to say. That meant that they won games because they did two things better than their opponents: blocking and tackling. They had players like Jerry Kramer on the offensive line and Ray Nitchzke on defense that were the best at their respective positions at football basics. As a result they didn’t have to rely solely on their skilled players at quarterback, wide receiver, or a kicker to always make “big plays” to win games. The games were won in the “trenches” the broadcasters would always remind us.

I remember reading once about Lombardi and those great Packer teams. The article described how consumed Lombardi was with practicing the football basics. His teams spent almost all of their practice time working on and perfecting their blocking and tackling skills. They would do endless number of drills from sunrise to late at night practicing these key skills. Lombardi knew that if his teams didn’t excel in these areas they would never enjoy the level of success that they did because he didn’t necessarily have more any talented player than the rest of the teams in the league.

My youngest son is playing little league football for the first time this fall. His team practiced the first three weeks without ever touching a football. All they did was work on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. Their coach understands, as Lombardi did, that if they can’t execute these basic skills at a very high level; they will never excel at the scoring points and winning football games.

I recently heard a retired CEO from an internationally known company talk about the importance of blocking and tackling in business. He explained that the key to his success in leading this company was the ability of his employees to execute the fundamentals. In other words he said, “It was all about blocking and tackling”. He had no superstars on the assembly line. Instead he spoke of “achieving extraordinary results from ordinary people” just as Coach Lombardi had done.

Recalling the famed Packers and hearing this CEO speaker led me to consider just what the fundamentals of business are. What is it that businesses should be practicing and drilling on just as Lombardi’s teams did? Are there tasks such as blocking and tackling that are so repetitive and almost boring to watch that many business leaders chose to ignore them and yet they are most critical to the success of the business?

For six years my wife and I owned and operated a retail travel agency. It was a successful business in a very tough industry that grew five-fold in five years and was as profitable as one could be in the travel business. I was in charge of sales and marketing. In other words, I was in charge of making “big plays”. I brought in the new accounts. I went after the big groups for their travel. I hired the independent sales representatives. With each “big play”, there would be celebrations in our office. I enjoyed this position.

However, I can take little credit for the success of this business.

My wife oversaw the daily operations of the agency. She coached our agents on making sure that the phones were answered on a timely and proper way. She made sure that our customer’ travel reservations were accurate and priced correctly. My wife made sure that our equipment and technology were performing at peak levels.

Her work was not exciting nor did it catch the attention of those around her, but it was absolutely fundamental to our success. I have come to realize that her work was to oversee the blocking and tackling within that office and that my success in making “big plays” was directly related to her and her agents ability to perform the fundamentals of that business. She could have just as well have been wearing a football cap and a whistle around her neck. We had our own Jerry Kramers and Ray Nitchzkes working for us at that time and we didn’t even know it.

What about your business? Here are several questions to consider about the blocking and tackling within your organization.

  • What are the basic fundamental activities that are performed within your business on a repetitive basis each day that make or break your team’s ability to win or lose?
  • How often do your players practice or train on these activities? Do you allow a “new player” to perform these activities without a minimal level of coaching and practice?
  • How are you measuring the performance of your front-line players in these activities? Are there certain metrics that you monitor just as football coaches count missed tackles and the number of quarterback sacks.
  • How are these players being rewarded and recognized for this unglamorous work?
  • Do you have a playbook (policies and procedures) in place that accurately describes how, when, and for whom these chores are to be performed?

My dad’s favorite game of all-time was the championship game in the late ‘60’s between the Packers and the Cowboys played in the frozen tundra in Green Bay. This was a very close game from the outset between two rival teams that didn’t like each other. The outcome of the game came down to the end of the fourth quarter. The Packers had the ball on the Cowboys one foot line with very little time left and 4th down. Their quarterback, Bart Starr, took the snap and than scored on a quarterback sneak with no time left to win the game. Starr was mobbed by his teammates.

This game was won not with a long pass or the fancy footwork of a runner. The game was won because one of the linemen created just enough space with a great block that Starr was able to push himself over the goal line. Thousands of hours of practice and training had paid off handsomely at the end of that game. While I can’t remember who the blocker was I am sure that quarterback Starr and Coach Lombardi most certainly do. That game was all about blocking and tackling. That’s just the way my dad liked his football.

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Tim Fulton is a nationally recognized entrepreneurial consultant and management trainer. He is also a very popular public speaker.

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