Lessons Learned From Football
Updated: Jan 24
By Jim Kahrs
As the fall season gets into full swing, many of us spend our Saturdays and/or Sundays watching one of America’s favorite pastimes; football. Whether a college or National Football League fan, most people who are into football have their team and have pretty strong desires to see them make it to the big game. Making it to the Bowl Championship Series game or the Super Bowl is a great goal, but might prove a little lofty for some teams. However, every team, no doubt, has its own goals and measurements of success. In measuring the level of success throughout the season coaches and players will be evaluating an abundance of statistics. The hope is that is that if they measure the right things and make the right adjustments they will be able to achieve the goals set at the beginning of the season. Running a business can and should borrow a page from the playbook of the sports world. This article will take a metaphorical look at how a business compares to a football team.
As mentioned above, almost every team, and certainly all successful teams, set their goals before the season starts. The goal may be to make it to the championship game or it might be something short of this. For example, a team might have the goal of getting more wins than they had last year, or having a record over .500, or winning their conference, etc. Regardless of what the goal is there is one important point; it must be something the team and coaches can rally around. Setting a goal that is unrealistic typically results in little or no effort or “push” toward the goal as it can be seen as unachievable. The net result here is a de-motivated team.
So how do we translate this to the business world? I suggest that you start with setting a revenue goal for the company. This is one of the key statistics of a business. You want the goal to be a stretch but one that the team will rally around. Very often the goal is set as a growth number relative to the previous year. For example, our goal is to grow the business 25%. This is a goal that can be easily made visible to the team and one that the team can affect. Of course, the coaching staff needs to also look at the profitability of the company as another key statistic. If you have an open-book policy where the team sees profitability this can be public. If not you’ll need to have the senior management team keep a close eye on net profit, as increasing total revenue while eroding net profit is a big mistake and one that must be avoided.
If you’ve ever been to a football game you’ve seen people in the crowd with signs designed to motivate the rest of the crowd as well as the players on the field. These signs act as a reminder of the goals the team is expected to be working toward. You can replicate this in the office by posting signs and reminders of the goals you’ve set. For example, if you’ve set a goal to grow 25% then you can have 25% signs posted all over the office. They will act as a constant reminder to your team.
Having team goals is critical but by no means enough. A football team has three distinctly different groups or sub-teams; offense, defense and special teams. Each of these groups has their own coaches and their own sub-goals. This is easily replicated in the business world. I would match them up like this; offense is sales, defense is service and special teams is admin. Closing sales is where the majority of our revenue, or scoring, comes in. Keeping customer systems up and running and providing outstanding support is the best way to defend our business from the other team that is always looking to score their own points. And, our ability to administer the business with proper billing, cash and asset management, collections, etc. is the special teams answer to turning revenue into profit.
So, let’s take a loser look at each. When looking at a football offense you’ll hear statistics like; yards running, yards passing, number of complete passes, number of interceptions, etc. When looking at these key statistics you get a good idea of the level of success of the offense and can pretty easily predict their scoring ability and very often the results of the game. In a business we need to track things in a similar way. Key statistics here will be things like; number of prospecting calls, number of appointments, number of demos, etc. If you set targets for these key areas you will be able to predict where you’ll be successful and where you won’t. Telling a sales team to simply go out and sell more without tracking these key actions and improving on them would be like telling a football offense to go out and score points without giving them a game plan or the sub-goals necessary to determine success. If a quarterback has a low completion percentage in a game the coaching staff will spend the following week working with him to determine why that is and then make the necessary corrections.
We should be doing the same thing. If a sales rep has, for example, a low appointment to prospecting call ratio he or she should get the coaching needed to correct the situation. Is the rep calling the right prospects? Is the rep saying the right thing? Is there something else off? A low statistic points to an area that needs attention. Unfortunately, I see too many businesses that do not take the time to make the corrections on a regular basis and thus their reps don’t improve their skills or their results.
The defense on a football team is charged with stopping the opposition from scoring against the team. The key statistics you’ll see here are things like number of forced punts, yards gained by the opponent, interceptions/fumbles caused, points scored by the team, etc. Just as we saw with the offense, the level of success in the defense can be tracked to the key statistics. For an office systems business you have key statistics like first-call efficiency, response time, contracts and supplies sold, sales leads, etc. A good first-call efficiency percentage means that we are fixing things quickly the first time and thus keeping customers happy. This is the equivalent to forcing the competitor to punt, as competitive sales people that try to get into this account will be turned away. Getting a sales lead that turns into a sale is the equivalent of an interception or a forced fumble allowing our offense (sales team) to get back on the field.
The special teams units on a football team are expected to put the offense and the defense in the best position to succeed. It is their responsibility to kick or punt the ball deep into the other team’s territory giving our defense more room to work with or to return a kickoff or punt as far as possible into the opponents territory or to kick a field goal when the offense gets close but can’t get the touchdown. In a business the admin team takes on much of the special teams role. The first piece of this comes in with marketing. Marketing is an admin function. It is intended to put the sales team (our offense) in the best position possible with prospects. Where marketing is non-existent the sales team has to work much harder. It’s like starting every drive from your own two-yard line. The admin team also makes it easier for the offense and defense by managing inventory well. Having the items we need when we need them is crucial. The admin team can also score points like the football special teams unit. In a business admin scores points by doing things like selling service contracts, selling supplies, collecting on unpaid invoices, securing vendor discounts and rebates, etc. These all add to the bottom line profitability.
If you haven’t noticed this already, business is very similar to sports. In effect, we are playing the game of business. Knowing this and thinking this way can not only make you more successful, it can also bring a new level of fun to work. When you view it as a game to be won it is easier to get enjoyment from the day to day activities that can, at times, seem like a grind. So, the next time you settle in to watch a football game, or any other game for that matter, look for the similarities to your business and how you can bring the fun of the game to your workplace. If you can do this successfully you’ll reap significant rewards both personally and financially.
Jim Kahrs may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by ph: 631.382.7762.