I’ve been a huge sports fan since my early youth. In 1970, at the age of 12, I purchased my very own season tickets for the Miami Dolphins. A full season for all of $14. That’s less than $1 per game. It’s hard to imagine how that team made money at those prices.
Over the last 50 years, I’ve remained an avid Dolphins fan along with an assortment of other college and professional teams. Celebrating their wins and agonizing over their losses, I cannot begin to imagine the number of hours a year I spend watching sports on television.
In all that time, I never looked at these athletic franchises as models for business growth. In fact, I often found myself screaming at their respective leaders for terrible decisions made off the field that impacted their team performance. I still lament the Dolphins allowing their best players, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul Warfield to go to the now-defunct USFL in exchange for nothing.
When I recently decided to examine these teams through an entrepreneurial lens, I was pleasantly surprised. I saw a number of great business practices that can be adopted by any growth-minded small business operator. Here are a few examples:
Most sports teams, both professional and college, have aggressive talent acquisition programs. They don’t wait for the best players to apply for jobs as most small businesses do. They are always actively recruiting the best players. They hire talent scouts who’re responsible for identifying and securing the best possible players for their teams.
These teams also don’t wait until they lose a key player to find a replacement. Because they expect to lose players over time, they continuously recruit. Many small businesses are guilty of looking for the same talent in the same places over and over again. Professional baseball was that way before expanding its search capabilities into South America. Now many of the game’s best players originate from those Latin countries.
Action Item: Do you have one person or one department whose sole responsibility is to proactively find new talent? Are you still looking in the same places for new employees or have you expanded your geographic footprint?
Most sports teams spend an enormous amount of time practicing. Professional teams practice four-six weeks before their respective seasons start. During the regular season, they practice in between each of their games. A portion of that practice time is devoted specifically to preparing for their next game and their next opponent.
One might wonder if they really need to practice? These are some of the very best athletes on the planet. They have been playing these sports since they were children. And yet, they continue to hone their skills. Practicing blocking and tackling, catching fly balls, and shooting free throws. Evidently, the best performers never stop trying to get even better.
Action Item: How much time do your employees spend practicing? How much preparation does your team do prior to each day, week, or month? Are your employees growth-minded? Always looking to get better?
When was the last time you attended a sporting event where there was no effort to keep score? A nice scoreboard with all of the important game-related numbers. I can’t imagine going to a Braves game and not seeing that beautiful scoreboard.
That scoreboard is important to the audience and to the players. Both groups want to know who’s winning and losing, which players are performing well, and what is the timing of the game.
Just like businesses, many sports teams have turned to analytics to track performance in the past decade. Measuring everything possible about every player and every play. They then use those analytics to make key strategic game-time decisions.
Action Item: What numbers are you looking at currently to determine the success and failure (winning & losing) of your business? How are you sharing this data with your key audiences? Are you collecting enough data to make good strategic decisions?
I don’t know any small business that has as many meetings as the average sporting team. Consider a football team. They have meetings almost every day leading up to game day. They also meet for several hours before each game. They even meet (huddle) during the game between every single play. And then they meet again after every game. The same is true in other sports as well.
Is it possible to over-communicate with your people? I don’t believe most sporting teams think so. They believe in using these meetings to practice fundamentals, discuss strategy, and create team alignment.
Action Item: How often do your employees meet? Does your company have a meeting rhythm that captures both strategic and tactical opportunities? A great guide to meetings is “Death by Meeting” by best-selling author Patrick Lencioni.
Almost every sporting team starts each new season with one goal in mind. Win a championship. That seasonal vision motivates each player to stay in shape in the offseason, practice hard before and during the season, and stay singularly focused on each game. It’s about winning.
What if it were different? What if at the beginning of the University of Georgia football season, the head coach suggested that this year they were going to focus instead on innovation? Or market development? Capital restructuring? How many games would the team win? Would there be a SEC or National Championship? Very unlikely. The key is to set the bar high – a championship season – and then provide the players with all the resources they need to win.
How many small businesses set their respective sights on a championship season? What is your company’s vision for success in 2021? Is it something worth sacrificing for? Is it something that your employees will rally together to achieve? Something to celebrate?
Action Item: Set your sights on a championship year. Go for the gold. It’s okay if you fall short. Far better than not competing at all.