Execution and Extreme Ownership The DIG/SET/SPIKE Principle

Include yourself in every win and loss and take time to have fun and laugh about your mistakes. They are a gift that life gives you.


Over the last 2 years, I have been blessed with the wonderful opportunity to lead an operational execution team and we have managed to put together a group of fine professionals. They combine knowledge and experience but also curiosity for improvement and a hunger for growth. It has reached a point where we need to stop and look around and reflect. The conclusion I have reached is that we dedicate ourselves to execute plans that are being handed to us… right?  More reflection is needed to find the real purpose:  We hold in our hands the service delivery promise to our clients. Suddenly a job with no apparent complexity has become one with the highest possible stakes.

There is no perfect plan

So many times, we complain about our present situation that we are dealing with.  In execution, there is no perfect plan since the plans are based on forecast or estimations.  This gives us two choices: complain or act and fix.  If you choose the second option you create the perfect opportunity to grow as an individual and develop a personal brand during this fixing process.  Fixing can be quite complicated sometimes and we will never be 100% right, but we will definitely be better and stronger at the end of the day.  By the way, this does not only apply to execution.

Be the cause and not the effect

It takes a good professional to take the right decision. Experience can teach you what you need to do during a crisis, but it is your attitude towards who you are and what you want to accomplish that will be the driver of your decisions.  When we fail to react and take a decision, this opens up a wonderful opportunity to dig down deep and understand why this happened. What are the barriers that we have set for ourselves? Also, when we do not hesitate and take a timely decision during crisis, this gives us a great opportunity to realize what enables us.  The fact is that there is no growth without honesty when we look inside of ourselves.

What is our biggest fear?

When you are honest you will see improvement opportunities.  To improve you need to be open to fail as many times as t it takes until you improve.  The great basketball coach, Pat Riley, the main mentor of that great 1990’s Los Angeles Lakers team that mastered the fast break, (for the ones who do not know the term, you can compare it to: executing under the highest stress levels and making decisions in a split second) who said that the secret of his success was due to 3 main reasons:  practice, practice, practice. The level of perfection in execution of the fast break was so great that this team was referred to as “showtime” because they looked perfect when executing, just like a Broadway show.  To reach perfection you need to fail many times, but what prevents us from doing the obvious?  Our biggest fear… looking bad among our peers. Failing and being visible at failing, creates the biggest “storm” inside of us and our ego is the driving force.  A former coach of mine, was the first person in my life who referred to that feeling of frustration one feels after failure, as a storm and if your ship is still sailing after the storm, it means that you were stronger than it.

Trust the underrated enabler

High performing teams trust each other, period. In my previous article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/trust-underrated-enabler-ricardo-mock/. I wrote about trust.

I have recently started learning how to play beach volleyball.  A sport that is played competitively with 2 players on each team. Only when you start understanding that this game involves perfect synchronization between teammates that you realize the level of trust that must exist in high performing beach volleyball teams.  One player will move along the net getting ready to block trusting that the other will cover his/her back always. So, in order to understand how these teams work together, I enrolled in a beach volleyball academy.  To my surprise 95% of the class’s time was dedicated to what they call “the dig” which is mainly how one defends and “the set” which is how one sets up the ball in an accurate way so our partner works less on the court.  Only 5% of the class was dedicated to the finish of the play or what they call “the spike”.  When I asked why, the answer was “the finish of the play is only the logical result of good defense and accurate passing.  In business, the equivalent will be Standard Work (DIG), Handover of tasks (SET) and the achievement of a common goal (SPIKE).  No wonder a very experienced volleyball player that I respect once told me “When you can master the DIG/SET/SPIKE principle everything in volleyball will make sense” and now I realize that this can relate to any team.  Trust and accountability cannot be a sometimes thing in high performing teams.  The result of the combination of the two is what I like to refer to as extreme ownership.  Extreme because when stakes are high we need to emphasize the importance of taking ownership.

Resist, Insist, persist

A high performing team is not easy to assemble.  There is no magic formula of strengths for a winning team.  Trust your gut, do not be afraid to fail and most of all, do not hesitate to keep fixing.  Time is needed for the team to grow and evolve into what you believe you all can become.  Include yourself in every win and loss and take time to have fun and laugh about your mistakes. They are a gift that life gives you.  Resist the storm that you may find, Insist in your idea and passionately Persist when nothing seems to make sense.  Cheers!

PS:This article is dedicated to that special person who makes my days a unbelievable adventure. I love you Emma (By the way, she is that volleyball player who came out with the DIG/SET/SPIKE principle).


Author: Ricardo Mock

Africa 24/7 Marine Manager at Maersk Line, Cape Town. Psychologist, Certified Crossfit Trainer, Health Coach and Motivator. Experience working in Project Management (Operations, Human Resources and Sales), innovation driving change. Specialties: Project Management, Sales, General Operations, Lean Six Sigma (LSS GB Certified), ERP´s implementation and Change Management. MBTI Profile: ENFP-T

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