How to Avoid Complacency [Part 3]: Establish a Strategy Execution Process

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Patrick "Lips" Houlahan

In the first two posts, we covered the tools to fight complacency in the planning phase. We also discussed how a laser focused BRIEF can start your teams out on the right foot. However, not every project and goal is conducted over a short time frame. They can often extend over weeks and months. So, how do we keep complacency from sneaking into a project that runs 6 weeks or 6 months. The answer is again rather simple. As an organization, we must establish a strategy execution process, or Execution Rhythm. As a fighter pilot, we refer to our Execution Rhythm airborne as a “timeline.”

A “timeline” during an air-to-air intercept is a series of decision points where we ask three simple questions; “Am I ahead, am I behind or am I on time?” or “Am I winning, losing, or neutral?” Based on our Plan and what we Briefed, we determine if we should continue with the intercept or abort. I forgot to mention, these decisions are made while two opposing aircraft are closing on each other at over 1000 mph! The important concept to note is that these decision points are predetermined in the planning phase.

Recently, I worked with top technology firm’s global services team which was spread out across the world (one particular mission had seven people located from India to California.) We developed the plans, conducted a Red Team, and then Briefed the plans. We also established an Execution Rhythm by conducting weekly Execution Gap (X-Gap) meetings.

The X-Gap meetings happened on the same day of the week, at the same time, every week over the nine-week execution period. Each meeting was less than 30 minutes long. The leader covered the previous week’s Courses of Action (COA,) the current week’s COAs, any new threats or resources, provided conflict resolution and delivered guidance. The results were awesome. They not only completed each mission, but they completed them on time or ahead of schedule. One mission leader said, “The X-Gap meetings eliminated confusion, provided clarity, and incentivize people to execute because they don’t want to let the team down. Now we have a framework, where before there was nothing.” These X-Gap meetings made all the difference in fighting complacency and improving their execution.

Use the Execution Rhythm to Build an Agile Team

X-Gap meetings and establishing an Execution Rhythm are just a few of the tools that we teach at Afterburner ( to fight complacency within an organization. X-Gaps are quick, effective, easy to implement, and they will keep your teams focused and razor sharp. They only thing they require is discipline. To learn about other ways complacency can affect your team’s performance, read our sections on the brief meeting, and having a contingency strategy.


Patrick “Lips” Houlahan has been involved with the start-up of two companies as and business development executive. The challenging experience of starting a business coupled with his vast knowledge of leading high performing has made Lips one of Afterburner’s most valued speakers. Lips regularly and with many of today’s leading corporations such as Verizon, GE, ExxonMobil, Medtronic, and H&R Block to name a few. Lips was an F/A-18 Hornet Instructor Pilot and flew the A-10 Warthog accumulating over 2800 hours of flight time.