How to Connect Execution to Your Strategy

By Patrick Thean

dateWed, May 28, 2014 @ 12:30 PM

You may have a company purpose, but do your employees know why they do what they do?

Have you heard the famous story of Sir Christopher Wren and the three brick layers? Well, it goes something like this...  Sir Christopher Wren was the famous architect tasked with rebuilding St Paul's Cathedral. One day when he was inspecting the work, he noticed that three brick layers were producing significantly different quality of work building up a wall. He asked the first man what he was doing. "I am laying bricks" was his answer. The second bricklayer was doing a better job. When asked what he was doing, he replied, "I am working to feed my family." Now the third bricklayer was doing an almost perfect job. His reply was, "Sir, I am building a cathedral."

The moral of this story is that when people work for a cause greater than themselves, they tend to do a much better job. When I ask company leaders what this means to them, I often get the right answer "we need to make sure that we have cathedral builders instead of bricklayers working in our companies." Great answer. So you'd better have a cause that is worthy of your employees. We often call this our company purpose. And if you have a company purpose clearly stated, it is easy to smile and check the box, "Yup, we are doing great. We have a purpose greater than ourselves. No bricklayers here!" Research data shows that less than 30% of the workforce is engaged. You write a paycheck every month. Are you sure that every single one of your employees is engaged and connected to the company purpose? If you are like most companies, then you might be wasting 70% of your payroll check every month. Your ROP (Return On Payroll) could be significantly improved.


Do you have any bricklayers? Maybe the better question is do you know how to identify possible bricklayers on your team? And what do you do once you find them? Do you shoot them? Of course not! It is your job to educate them and help to get them excited and connected to the purpose of your company.

Can you identify the bricklayers in your company? Get down to execution basics. It isn't complicated.

Here are three examples that you may be able to observe in everyday life:

  • A coffeehouse owner believes that his company exists to help people get a great start to a great day. He wants to be the spark that they might need to jump start their day. No matter what they will face at work today, he wants to start off their day right and strong. He wants to help them live a great day! It's not just about the coffee, it's about helping customers to face the day and overcome their obstacles. Wow! Then you notice that a waiter there is merely focused on filling the coffee cup, and even being a little rude to customers who need extra help. That's a bricklayer.
  • How about this one. At the airport, the airline ticket agent is visibly frustrated helping customers rebook their flight. The agent is only focused on getting customers' tickets changed, not on helping them understand how to get home. That's a bricklayer.
  • A hotel has a slogan behind the registration desk that says, "Get refreshed at your home away from home." An exhausted customer shows up and is told that his room is not ready. The customer is frustrated, and the registration clerk says, "I am sorry, sir, there is nothing I can do; you will just have to wait 2 more hours." Another bricklayer. Instead, how about offering him a refreshing drink? Or asking him how else you might help him and make him feel more welcome? I mean, he is supposed to be "home away from home," right?

Why does this happen? Do these employees just not care? Surely this does not happen in your company where 100% of your employees care? This could happen when employees are over tasked and tired. When people get over tasked, they go into survival mode and can get tunnel vision on the task at hand. They forget why they are performing the task. They lose sight of the overall purpose. Or, it might be that you never took the time to educate them about the company's strategy and direction.

Here is a simple suggestion. Connect your execution to your purpose by asking employees what they are doing and why they are doing it, just like Sir Christopher Wren asked his bricklayers. And if they answer with the task that they are performing, then remind them about the purpose of the company. Remind them of the cathedral they are building. Get into a rhythm and habit of asking and reminding your teams to look up and admire the cathedral they are building. Help them get inspired.

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Patrick Thean


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images