The martial arts school that my wife and I, Academia Duellatoria, go to just did a weekend of demos and free lessons at the Faire in the Grove. At the time, I was thinking that it wasn’t as successful as I would have liked it to be. Until I thought about it some more later.

It seemed like we were kind of scrambling at the time, because we’re all in medieval/renaissance garb no one is actually wearing a watch so we don’t know what time it is. Plus since the only list of what classes are being offered when is on the whiteboard in front of the booth, you can’t see it from the inside so you’re never sure of what’s next and how long it will be. If we were to dwell on the negative there was a bunch of things that could have gone better, there were all execution details that weren’t thought through in advance, tactical details of executing the classes.

What went right was the strategy: to show what we do and therefore recruit new students. There was no doubt why we were there, everyone knew it. Granted, it was only a couple of weeks ago, so it’s a little early to tell how effective we really were strategically, finding lots of new students.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was pretty much the only approach that would work with volunteers. All the students are paying for classes, we’re not being payed to be there. So how do you keep people motivated and moving in the same direction?

The answer was to make sure that everyone understood the goal and thought it was worth achieving. Because we all knew the strategic goals, people’s actions were informed by them to make it successful. Even though, we had some of the details that could have used a little work.

As a contrast to that, I recently went on a business trip to spend some time in another of our branch offices. We had the tactical details worked out, where we were staying, which offices we would be in on what days. The strategy was fuzzy, why the heck were we there?

We had no real idea, other than general team building. The meeting that we were going to attend was cancelled too late to cancel the trip, plus one of the teams was in firefighting mode and couldn’t be disturbed. So we had good execution on the tactics, but lousy execution on the strategy. In the long run, I suspect that this will be kind of a failure even though it seemed like a success at the time.

When looking at both of these experience I came up with a couple of questions to think about:

  1. How do you choose the right strategic goals?
  2. How to get people excited about achieving those goals and keep them that way?
  3. What are the right tactical details that need to be worked out?