Podcast Ep 139 | What’s more important: Right People or Right Strategy?

What is more important, getting the right people or getting the right strategy?

Many people have opinions about what matters more. Strategy people think it’s strategy, and you might have a great team, but they will spin their wheels without a great strategy. 

Then others will think that culture is more important and that a great strategy will go nowhere without a high-performing team. 

But there’s also one other nuance to this debate and its execution. How effectively does the team execute the strategy?

Today we ask if we had to pick one, if we had to dedicate 80% of our energy to, which would it be and why?




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.


Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Welcome to The Growth Whisperers podcast where everything that Kevin and Brad speak about is related to building enduring great companies. Because in many ways, it’s our it’s our work. It’s our passion. It’s what we get excited about. It’s what we get our kicks out of nothing like seeing a business that goes into the second generation third generation, or just continues to thrive for a long, long time, and build on what it’s built. It’s kind of fun for us. So that’s the podcast, and today is episode 139. That’s pretty incredible. It’s gonna be three years coming up pretty soon, Brad. Anyways, good day at and my friend down in Australia.

Brad Giles  01:07

Well, I was gonna say talking about myself in the third person as you just did, because that was entertaining. But I’m not going to do that. I would say cohesive, I would say just, yeah, the word cohesive thinking about how cohesive teams are so much more effective.

Kevin Lawrence  01:28

Awesome, mine is grandiose. I just flew in from, like, in from a flight from the US, like a few minutes ago, was down in the US. And just just every time I’m there and have time to get out and about and see what’s happening in cities, just the grand scale of the thinking and was down by Palm Springs. And that’s what they have a couple of massive music festivals of Coachella and Stagecoach, which are two massive music festivals, and saw this amazing racing facility called Thermo, which again, massive big vision that the founder of that organization has, and just, you know, the US it’s a big physical country, but the thinking is even bigger. So grandiose and just big thinking and just making big things happen. So what was your word, Brad? it was it was cohesive. So you know, when you have a cohesive team, and you have a grandiose vision or strategy, good things happen. And why wouldn’t that make a good subject for a podcast? Hmm.

Brad Giles  02:35

It’s possible. But it’s also possible that we could move on to the subject for the day?

Kevin Lawrence  02:41

Yes. Well, it’s actually that’s what the subject of today relates to. It is what is more important, the right people or the right strategy, and you can say that your word cohesive, could relate to the right people. And you could say that my word grandiose could relate to the right strategy. So cohesive or grandiose, or more specifically, you know, what’s more important, really having the right people in the right team? Or having the right strategy? That’s what we’re kind of digging into today?

Brad Giles  03:11

It is, it’s a question that many people may may think about, is it more important to have the right strategy or the right people? The strategy people would say, oh, yeah, absolutely. Must have a

Kevin Lawrence  03:24

right. Strategy is very important, and very smart and exciting. And yes.

Brad Giles  03:29

And then the, the people, people that people who, you know, go for culture or people first, they would be saying that the most important thing is getting the right people. So we got to dig into this today. What’s the most important?

Kevin Lawrence  03:42

We’ve got the answer, we have the answer. We absolutely know what it is. And that’s what we’re going to share with you today. Yeah, right. Brad? You don’t need to answer..

Brad Giles  03:53

Well, we have the questions that might lead the listener to the answer. How’s that?

Kevin Lawrence  03:58

How beautifully said. Well, the thing is, like everything, the answer always is to a certain degree that it depends. But we’re actually going to press ourselves. And if we actually had to make a choice to notably prioritize one over the other, are we going to prioritize people, and that, you know, if 80% of our energy was going to go to one and only, you know, a little bit to the other, you obviously can’t go to zero. But if we had to prioritize like 80% of the resources go into one of the other would be people or strategy. And I think we’re gonna have a really interesting conversation. And we’ve had discussions about this in the past, I’ve had many discussions on my answer has changed throughout my career, interestingly. And I think initially, I was while I was with one, it changed in the middle and then it came back to where I started currently is where my thinking is. But Brad, what do you what are you what are you thinking?

Brad Giles  04:58

I’m thinking what was the one that to what was the one that you started off with? But seriously? Yeah, I mean, you said prioritize, we want to prioritize one over the other. I mean, the word priority originally, if you go back in time, it was about selecting only one. So to select one thing, and that’s kind of, that’s kind of what we’re trying to get to here. Yes. I think we did an episode recently saying that. I think it was like 90, approximately 90% of business strategies failed due to poor execution. That was from Harvard Business School. And if that’s the case, then why are they failing that they might be good? So should we focus on getting a better strategy? Maybe those strategies weren’t good enough? Maybe they didn’t develop them? Maybe they didn’t develop an execution plan that was good. Yeah, it’s, I think, I think it depends on what you say, by strategy, okay, is what I’m thinking to, like, I want to try to weigh in both sides of the debate, because for some people strategy is just a set of goals. Okay? That is, we’re going to go from $25 million revenue to $40 million revenue in three years, for example.

Kevin Lawrence  06:32

Yeah but if that’s a goal, there’s there needs to be some strategy, we’re talking about strategy is thinking about your core customer, and how you solve their problem better or differently in a way that’s appealing to them. To start with, like, that’s that piece of it. And then what else in your business? Basically, there’s the consumer piece, there’s the structural piece. What is it that gives you a competitive advantage, such that you can make good money while you are taking care of the customers that you’re trying to help? So yeah, it’s not just goals, there needs to be a little more a little more thought and intelligence and positioning in that.

Brad Giles  07:09

Yeah. So they might think, the take that goals idea a little bit further, they might think, Okay, so we’re going to open a new state or a new country, or we’re going to double the size of our sales force. And that’s going to be our strategy. Now. That’s the definition we’ve made that point. But now let’s go to what the definition of strategy as you put it, understanding the core customer understanding their needs, and meeting those needs, in an underserved market better than anyone else. The problem is, is that you can think, if we do that, we will win, and that will be the job done.

Kevin Lawrence  07:48

And the reality is, like most things in the world, ideas are cheap, and easy. Creativity is the easy part of anything. So you have the possibility to win. But then a whole bunch of humans have to do a whole bunch of things right, consistent with that, to actually get the results, and win. So the planning and all that’s important. The strategy piece is important. But without the human beings to actually get it done. It doesn’t matter. It’s hypothetical value, not real value, and you need the humans to create the real value.

Brad Giles  08:27

Yeah, absolutely. i It makes me think about Uber, the winner, Uber. Uber are an interesting case study, because they had a brilliant strategy. There’s no doubt that, you know, changing the entire industry where people used to pay cash, probably, or pay, you know, a taxi driver, and all of the taxi system to completely transform that they meet the needs of the customer better than anyone else. So the strategy was brilliant.

Kevin Lawrence  09:03

And their execution and the people that executed I mean, I love Uber, I was using it just today. Probably had the most interesting, one of the most interesting Uber drivers I’ve ever had. But the reality is, it is the strategy is outstanding, and they’ve obviously had to have amazing people to execute that to bring it to life. Because the idea is good.

Brad Giles  09:30

Yeah but there’s a bit of a problem in that the culture was toxic. You know, the CEO got the CEO got fired, because there were too many lawsuits that were coming in, because of the toxic culture.

Kevin Lawrence  09:45

I read an article recently, a bunch of other funny stuff happening. Yeah, a lot of yeah, a lot of things. Yet, all that being true. They replaced him. And the still, I mean, there’s still a spectacular company like they’re doing a great But go back to your point about the culture Brad.

Brad Giles  10:02

Yeah. So they like that’s an example of world class best example of strategy. Okay, so we’re trying to cater to both sides here. But but the problem if your name was Travis, the the CEO who founded the company, he got kicked out because he didn’t get the right people who, because he had toxic As, didn’t get the right people in the company to build the culture that could sustain and manage the growth over time. Now, there’s no doubt that they executed, no doubt that they changed the industry, there’s no doubt that Uber is now I guess, a verb in itself, that Uber, Uber is, you know, you don’t go to say, oh, we’ll go and touch catch a rideshare. Nobody says that. They say I’ll go and catch an Uber. So the success can’t be the success can’t be doubted. But…

Kevin Lawrence  10:58

Well, we can say for sure that I’m sure it’s because of people executing like crazy that people executing that’s because we’re not the only one that had the strategy lift is out there and lots of others, lots of others in different countries. Yeah. And when people piece got lumpy, they made some changes, so they could continue with the strong people to continue to execute and make great things happen.

Brad Giles  11:21


Kevin Lawrence  11:23

So you know, really, if we, if we look at this, and and I look at an example of a company, a US company that I work with. And you know, coming into COVID, you know, we had 70% A players in the whole company, and 90% A players in the key roles. Like we were stacking the decks with talent. It was an incredibly, incredibly strong team. And, you know, the CEO came with us to spend a couple of days with Jim Collins, where he reinforced, you know, Jim said, clearly, you can’t be a great company with good people, it doesn’t work. So we were on the great people train, and their business was really getting impacted by COVID, we weren’t sure what to do. And at some point, the CEO arranged a call and said, “Look, our business is, you know, 30% of our business disappeared. And there is opportunities everywhere for us, go find it, go flip over rocks, look in unconventional places, just go find the opportunities.” And like a bunch of warriors, they ran into the market, and found opportunities like incredible, and the business essentially doubled during that time period. Now, they weren’t in tourism. So they were in a business that it was possible they were in tourism that may or may not have worked, but the fact is, is they kind of like release the hounds. And they went and found what they needed. And they did incredibly, incredibly well. So this backs up, you know, for me, my vote is people. You know, early in my career, I alluded to it, I was clear, though, I always thought it was people that made the difference. And then I started hanging out with some other consultants and stuff and started thinking about that people that strategy, because strategy and strategy are all the smart people. Every consultant wants to be a strategy consultant. But then I realized, strategy is good, that needs to be there. And I’ve swung back to people. And so most of our conversations are an amazing group of people will figure things out. I mean, there’s many cases that you know, you and I know these cases of companies that have had amazing teams, and the the business isn’t there that they thought. Well, then they go and reinvent something they created, or pivoted and make it work. And I would just add, you know, amazing people that are aligned. And you know that so if I had to choose, I’ll take a group of badass A players any day, just beasts who want to execute and are amazing at what they do. And together, you’re going to figure something out. So my, my stake in the ground on this is, is people because they will find the opportunities, they’ll find ways to sort out clients, even if you don’t formally do strategy, the conversations are going to come up. You need to align it and make sure we’re focused on the right things. But the amazing strategy with it with a mediocre team, unless you’ve got, you know a monopoly, maybe. But otherwise, I’ll say it needs to be people first strategy second.

Brad Giles  14:26

Yeah, there’s a there’s a company that I work with here in Australia, and they have an a brilliant strategy, like, absolutely brilliant, and it will change the industry. And I can’t say who it is obviously, but and I can’t see how anyone can easily catch them. Right. And I think that it’s kind of it’s a land grab. It’s not the real estate industry, but it’s a land grab, you know, and I think that one they get there, they they’re going to be doing really well. The point that I make at the beginning, you know, they didn’t, they weren’t surrounded by a players, they had the brilliant strategy. But then when we get in there the job to be done, we need more highly competent people in the room like A players. We need to increase the percentage of A players, these some of these people were really, really good. But they weren’t good enough to execute this strategy for what that strategy deserved. If that makes sense.

Kevin Lawrence  15:31

It is I was I was with another co worker with a few months ago, and we’re sitting in the room. And, you know, he’s got a good enough strategy in his business, but we’re sitting in the room, you know, a number of years later, he and I are the only two people of the 10 are the only two that were there in the first meeting that we had six or seven years ago, everyone else has changed. Because they weren’t able at the level that the company was at to get the job done. Most of them some some still wasn’t the right in place for them. But they just for what the company needed at the size that it’s grown to. And it’s substantial now, the people just weren’t able to produce most or didn’t want to produce. And the reality is, and now he’s got notably better people on the company’s growing again. Of course! Because the team just was, you know, if the capability of the team was at a, you know, we’ll call it a, you know, a $500 million level, the company was at a $750 million level. And for a lot of those people that just, it just doesn’t work. And again, it’s not just the numbers just about the scale of the business. So yeah, the, the people make a spectacular difference. And interestingly, a lot of CEOs and executives don’t spend a lot of time on strategy or people, they tend to spend a lot of time on the financials. And it’s, you know, and it’s interesting, but the intelligence comes out, when you think through strategy, the lens of strategy. And the the intelligent decisions come out when you really spend time thinking through the lens of people. The financials are kind of the outcomes. And I think a lot of people mistakenly look at it backwards, they try to drive the business through the income statement. And that’s, it’s a scorecard, you got to drive the other two to get a better income statement.

Brad Giles  17:22

And smart people like, love playing with strategy. Strategy is play for smart people. They can do it all day.

Kevin Lawrence  17:30

It’s like intellectual. Yeah, I like, Yeah, I like it myself. Yeah. But I just look at where, where’s the ROI? Where do I see the greatest value add in the companies that I work with? But strategy is fun.

Brad Giles  17:47

You know, one of the good friend of mine, one of the greatest strategy people, you know, certainly that it’s come across my path, personally is a guy called Kyan Kripendorff

Kevin Lawrence  17:57

Yeah. Kyan’s a great guy,

Brad Giles  17:59

I great guy. And he has one of his strategy pieces is what’s the fourth option? Love it. And that always makes us ask the question, what is the option that we haven’t considered that’s out there? So for this conversation, is it people or strategy, I say, what’s the fourth option? And that might be execution? Because what we really want is the results. What we really want is, what we want is the execution of the strategy. That’s, you know, that if there was a third, is it people or strategy or execution? But see you without the right people, without a team with the right people

Kevin Lawrence  18:43

do their execution? Yeah,

Brad Giles  18:47

right. Without a team of a players, you’re not going to be able to do the strategy, justice, okay, you’re not going to be able to execute it to the highest level of its potential. So it kind of circles back to the people. So here’s the thing, you could have a high performing cohesive team of A players. Anytime, any market, any geography, and they would figure it out and find a way to win.

Kevin Lawrence  19:18

Yeah and they will execute important things that are in sync with the strategy. And as long as the executives are making sure that we execute key things that are about the people, then generally the business gets better and moves ahead. So continually executing, refining the strategy and marching towards the strategy, continually making decisions to build a stronger pool of people who get the right stuff done. And then obviously, managing your numbers, but yeah, so what camp are you in? Strategy? Or people if you have to choose?

Brad Giles  19:49

People, it’s got, it’s got to you’ve got to get the right people. Like that’s Jim Collins. Step number one. You got to get the right people on the bus on the right seat doing the right things the right way. Yeah. And I 100% agree with that. Because unless you get that unless you get the right people, and you’ve got that cohesion, and the high performing, everything else stops.

Kevin Lawrence  20:18

You take an amazing opportunity and make something mediocre out of it. I agree. I feel like most of the time we spend working with CEOs and executives it’s around the people decisions and helping to drive performance. It’s so yeah, so we’re both in the camp that look, you need strategy. But if you had to pick one and double down on something, it’s going to be people, because they’re gonna figure it out. Business is not rocket science. But if you have a whole bunch of amazing people, it’s it’s way, way easier. And if you have a brilliant strategy, but a whole bunch of people that aren’t capable or committed, you’re not going to get very far you’re not going to win.

Brad Giles  20:59

Awesome. Indeed, I think, yeah, I think I’m going to close that off by saying you can’t, like you said at the beginning, you can’t have a great company with good people. Nope, it’s just such a simple and succinct way to put it.

Kevin Lawrence  21:15

And you can’t have great results with great results with okay, people. Right, and it’s fun to work with great people. I love it. There’s nothing like working with accomplished smart, capable people who are driving to get things done and finding ways to win. I mean, it’s like it, there’s nothing like it. So there’s the results of the business and then there’s enjoying your your work and loving what you’re doing.

Brad Giles  21:45

Yeah. And I suppose it speaks to the job of management and leadership, which is to grow the people around you. Right. That’s you’ve got to grow them to become better and more effective leaders.

Kevin Lawrence  21:58

Are there’s a quote I’ll share is the job of a leader is to create more leaders. Right? Yeah, that’s it. The job of a leader is to create more leaders. Unfortunately, many leaders are so busy working, that they don’t put enough time into building the leader, but that is our job, job and leaders to create leaders. Love that. Awesome. Well, let’s close this off, Brad. So thanks for listening, guys. This has been the growth whispers podcast with Kevin and Brad. I’m Kevin. He’s Brad. I’m in Vancouver, Canada. Brad’s in Perth, Australia. You can subscribe in your favorite podcast app. And if you haven’t already, please do share it with your friends, your team, your colleagues. For the video version, go to youtube.com and just search The Growth Whisperers. Brad and I both have newsletters that we put out weekly and lots of content on our sites. We love to share whatever we can. You can also search for back episodes of this podcast all that stuff is available. Brad is that evolutionpartners.com.au and I am found at Lawrenceandco.com. Hope you have an awesome week. And I hope that you continue to refine your strategy, but potentially consider double downing on the strength of your team.