Monday, February 4, 2013

Do You Have a Super Bowl Winning Business?


This past weekend, the NFL held its championship game, which since the 1966 season has been commonly referred to as the “Super Bowl”.  In a very entertaining game, which included a record breaking 108-yard kick-off return and a 34 minute power outage delay, the Baltimore Ravens were able to hold off a late 49ers rally to win 34-31.  However, unbeknownst to most of the 108 million people watching by television, and the thousands in the stadium, behind the scenes of this final game of the season was a very powerful engine of American business generating BILLIONS (yes, with a “B”) of dollars of revenue. 

The business of running a successful NFL franchise, and consistently winning in an era of increased parity, has absolutely nothing to do with a lucky mile-high catch, or a close no-call at the end of the game.  A single play on a single day never determines the outcome of the single most important game of the year.  Those that perform at a high level year in and year out make good decisions on a daily basis that inevitably lead to tremendous success, and these teams and their players share some common characteristics that all entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn from to take their businesses to a championship level.

1. Discipline - One of the big stories from this year's Super Bowl has been Ray Lewis and his retirement from the game of football.  His quest for another Super Bowl ring in this “swan song” or “final act” of his career has also shined a super-bowl-sized light on his past failures and misdeeds.  However, while Ray would be the first to admit that some of his youthful indiscretions were riddled with poor decisions, he is also an unbelievable model of discipline and self-control.  Ray has long since been an advocate of healthy living and clean eating, and treats his body as a machine, only feeding it what will cause it to work at the highest level.  He hasn’t eaten fast food – not a single cheeseburger or French fried potato – in his entire 17 year career.  In addition to his eating habits, his work ethic in the weight room and on the practice field has been referred to by some as “legendary”, and his role as leader of his football team has never been in doubt.
This type of discipline and commitment to excellence are the same attributes necessary to own and operate a successful small business.  Those who succeed at the highest level are always those willing to put in the time, energy, and effort that is uncommon in their industry, and to do the things that their competitors are unwilling to do.  It’s not necessarily about working long hours, or abandoning your family to slave away at the office, but rather a mindset of sacrificing short term pleasures in order to achieve long term gain.  Sometimes this manifests itself in a longer work week every once in a while, however it is also about allocating capital responsibly, putting principles before profits, and going the “extra mile” in relationships with customers, employees, and those in your sphere of influence.

2. Accountability - Every week football players are required to "break down tape" or watch video of the previous week's game with their coaches.  In these sessions, coaches perform more of a micro-analysis of each play, and take time to examine the fundamentals of each player, such as tackling, route running, and how the quarterback is able to read through his progressions and make the appropriate pass.  Just imagine how much incentive it must give each player during the game, knowing that their every movement will be analyzed and reviewed in slow motion by their position coaches and fellow teammates.  If they take a play off or don't give maximum effort during any phase of the game, their team will know about it.

Can you imagine if you employed that same strategy for your employees?  If you sat down at the end of the week and watched all 40 hours of your employee’s time at the office along with them, can you imagine how much more productive they would be?  Of course, you would probably have a tough time retaining employees with that kind of 1984-Big Brother-micromanagement, so let’s skip the employees for now and head right on over to your office.  How much different would your work day be, if at the end of every week you had to sit down with an accountability partner and go over every hour you spent at the office?  What if every email and article read, every task completed, every conversation on the phone independently audited and analyzed by an impartial 3rd party? Don't you think your productivity, attention to detail, and time management would dramatically increase?

While it may not be necessary to go to these extremes, it's an excellent idea to have an accountability partner or group of like-minded individuals that you meet with on a monthly basis.  It’s a great opportunity for you to share ideas with each other, get advice from those in different industries, as well as hold each other accountable for what has been accomplished during the previous month.

3. The Back-up Plan – Both of the head coaches in this year’s Super Bowl were applauded for making very difficult decisions during the course of the season.  Jim Harbaugh benched his quarterback, a former #1 draft pick who had led this same 49ers team to the NFC championship game just one year earlier, in favor of an unknown 2nd year player (Colin Kaepernick) from an equally unknown college (Nevada).  Older brother John made headlines as well, when he fired his offensive coordinator with just a few weeks left in the season.  Both men understood the importance of a back-up plan.

Every player on the football field has a back up for their position, and sometimes 2 or 3, as insurance in the unfortunate event that one of them gets injured on a play.  If one player is unable to take care of his obligations, an equally prepared back-up player is able to take his place in the game.  Coaches spend hours on that week’s game plan, however they also go into each contest with contingency plans depending on how the offense or defense plays them in that particular game.  Great coaches and great teams are also known for their “half-time adjustments”, in which another plan is devised on the fly, to counteract something unexpected that happened during the first half of the game.

In business, we may spend months on a business plan or marketing campaign.  However, sometimes even the best laid plans in a boardroom don't always work out as well as we had hoped once they get deployed in the real world.  Sometimes our competition makes a move we didn’t expect or perhaps a rapidly shifting market catches us by surprise.  As entrepreneurs, we must be flexible enough to change when we are faced with new information or a changing dynamic within the marketplace.
4. Rest – This one may come as a surprise to you, as many business leaders and bloggers spend their time extolling the virtues of long hours at the office, advocating for the “early bird” to also be the “night owl” and burn the “midnight oil” and both ends of the candle.  However, that has never been, nor will it ever be my advice to you.  I understand that we all have specific times in our business when we have to work extra hours, whether it’s due to a seasonal increase in business, or you are working on a new product launch or marketing campaign.  However, much like NFL players, we must take an opportunity to rest our bodies and our minds.

Each week during the NFL season, usually the day immediately following a game, the players receive a day off to rest their bodies.  Additionally, during the 17-week season, each team is given an entire week off, referred to in football as the “bye” week.  This week allows the players to spend additional time resting their tired bodies, and recovering from injuries.  Once the season is over, players are also encouraged to spend time away from the game with family and friends, to re-energize and get ready for the upcoming mini-camps in the summer.

Our culture frequently shirks off vacation time because of the illusion of increased productivity. However, studies show that vacation time actually increases productivity, as the rested mind is more creative, and able to make up for the lost time with increased speed and clarity of thought. This concept was certainly not lost on the Creator of the Universe, who Himself took a day to rest after creating the Earth and its inhabitants during the previous 6 days.  God was the originator of the “day off”, and felt so strongly about its importance, he established a weekly time to rest for his people, known as the Sabbath day. 
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of necessary traits for running a Super Bowl winning business, hopefully it will serve as some food for thought to help take your business to the next level in the upcoming year. I will end my part of the discussion here, but now it’s your turn!  Take a few moments and join the conversation by sharing an attribute below, and why you think it’s important in reaching the pinnacle of success in football, and in life. 

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