The basics are rarely considered glamorous or awe-inspiring. Their value and importance are demonstrated, time and again, through the enduring success of individuals and organizations. From every strata and corner of the business world and beyond, winners are associated with the superior execution of the basics. Slow managers can dramatically improve themselves and their organizations simply by “recovering” the fundamentals.

Vince Lombardi is one of the earliest of American football’s head coaches. His enduring legacy is that of excellence, integrity and winning. His speech, “Gentlemen, this is a football” is repeated often.

Even after winning two Super Bowl championships, training camp opened with a deadly serious review of the basics. Lombardi would give an exact description of a football, then a football field, then players and coaches. Every season, every player and coach re-learned and re-qualified on the fundamentals of the sport.

Coach Lombardi did not step into a winning program. In fact the 1958 Green Bay Packers held a 1-1-10 record. Thanks to Coach Lombardi’s leadership, the 1961 Packers won the NFL championship.

Lombardi made champions of the players he had, not an expensive group of “hired guns.” You can create success for yourself and your organization as you are. All it takes is a little leadership and a lot of fundamentals.

Buy low. Sell high

Successful businesses and business professionals know the definition and value of basics. Fundamentals are the core set of skills, abilities, and processes that lead to success. A manager with faded technical, conceptual, or people skills will be eclipsed by competitors. An organization that loses its expertise in the cost, quality, and delivery of its product will become a victim in the capitalist jungle.

Business people like excellence and winning. For its own sake. Too often, looking for the big score, we overlook the little register ringers. The small wins add up. They cost less as well.

The basics are inexpensive, since they are part of the core investment. You (intuitively) know that the maintenance of plant and equipment is the price of staying in business. See the fundamentals in the same light. A winning strategy never defers the renewal of core skills and abilities.

The larger your business, the easier it is for the basics to become deferred. Re-training 500 skilled technicians is harder and more expensive than re-tooling 50 football players. It is vital to the survival of the business to re-strengthen everyone.

Lombardi used a punishing regimen of exercises, drills, and training classes to improve his team. Your approach to yourself, or your organization, may not be as harsh. It must however be as serious. If you aren’t willing to master the basics, you aren’t willing to win. No one walks or coasts to a championship season.

Collect as early as possible

Are fundamentals enough? Probably not. They are a hygiene factor. Their absence dooms the effort, but cannot, alone, guarantee success.

Fundamentals make the complexities easier to execute. The basics are a sure foundation for your strategies, tactics, and gambits. Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense builds on the legacy of Vince Lombardi’s fundamentals.

Consider Honda, 3M and Federal Express. They deliver the goods with quiet excellence. Satisfied customers provide the loudest portion of their marketing. With pleased customers on your side, it’s much easier to push the fundamentals agenda.

If you can’t transform the entire organization at once, create pockets of excellence. They create buzz within the organization. Eventually pockets of fundamental excellence infects the entire organization.

The same is true of individuals. You may not be able to knock out all of your bad habits this week, buy keep up the pressure. As each reformed skill is put in place, it’s easier to enable the next. There’s still a fair chunk of work involved, however.

Watch the pennies

Be vigilant. No one deliberately gets sloppy. The daily pressures of the business world encourages a shortcut here and there. After a 10 or 12 hour day, even the most diligent among us might settle for less than “sharp and crisp.”

After a while your level has slumped. At that point, it takes a deliberate, and usually jarring effort to correct the situation. The best of us are imperfect at times. The best of us are willing to put in the effort to recover our best and brightest level.

If your fundamentals are weak or declining, you know what to do: recover your basic skills and abilities. Spend the time and money it takes. Disconnect or dismantle any complexities that interfere with that mission. They likely weren’t working well enough, if at all, anyway.

Will you restore or replace your complex strategies and tactics? Eventually. You will likely find that with viable basics in place, those complexities will change as well. An improvement of your basic abilities will dramatically change your strategies and tactics. Strong basics make for less expensive and more effective strategies. I’m sure you’ll find a place to invest the extra cash.

Vigilance is the price of freedom

Strong basics will strengthen your brand and franchise. The next level of success is harder and higher without the boost of fundamentals. Their price is disproportionately low compared to their benefit.

One of the first benefactors of your improvement will be the customer. The money spent on improving customer satisfaction is never wasted. It comes back in profits and additional customers. Most organizations like additional customers.

Unfortunately, it’s a never-ending cycle. “Just as I got the delegation process fixed, the quality system needed attention.” I never told you being first-class would be easy. On the other hand, who wants to be second-rate?

Slow managers win by being sharp on the fundamentals, then bringing the rest of the game into play. Get ready to sharpen yourself. You want to win, right?

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