3 Lessons Business Can Learn From Sporting Winners

Tony Hughes

3 Lessons Business Can Learn From Sporting Winners

I was recently interviewed by Kelly Riggs on his BizLocker radio program and afterwards we had a great conversation where I asked him what he thought business can learn from sport. Kelly was himself an elite athlete and he has published two acclaimed books. In the Quit Whining and Start Selling book he provides a sales acceleration formula which is brilliant.

So, from someone who really knows; what can business learn from elite sport? Here is his insightful response with three very specific things.

First: Just like sports, business is a competition.

Since we compete for business, it is always in our best interests to hire competitors who want to win and bristle at the very thought of mediocrity. Sure, there is a line one can cross (in sports as well) when it comes to competition, but employers are often guilty of hiring resumes rather than competitors. The problem is that it is too easy to make a resume look good, and most companies have very poor hiring processes. As a result, they hire reactively, screen poorly, and consistently justify bad hiring decisions with the worst of excuses: "It's hard to find good people."

In fact, there are only four ways to play a game on the field, on the court, or on the pitch: 1) Play to win, 2) Play to win at all costs, 3) Play not to lose, or, 4) Just show up and play. The only real option for long-term success is to consistently play to win - legally, ethically, and morally. Sadly, however, the vast majority of companies just show up and play. It's reflected in their attitudes about business, their lack of planning, and their approach to hiring and managing employees. Lesson No. 1: Hire better. Hire attitude and character first, skills second.

Second: To win consistently, you need an effective game plan.

Winning in sports is a function of leadership, game plan, and talent. Take any one of those out of the mix and your sports performance will suffer - and so it is in business. The thing is, all three are interconnected. Take any two and toss out the third and you have a serious problem.

The bridge between leadership and talent is the game plan, and it is amazing how often businesses today lack an effective, well-communicated strategic plan. In my experience, only 10-15% of companies have a working strategic plan that guides decision making and is consistently reviewed and evaluated.Consider the sports coach whose team was just handed a crushing defeat. Now imagine him or her standing in front of the press and responding to this question: "Coach, it was tough out there today. What was your game plan going in?" Now imagine this response: "Well, guys, to be frank, we didn't have a plan. I just told the team to play hard." Lesson No. 2: Create a strong game plan. Communicate it clearly. Review it consistently. Make sure everyone on the team knows the role they play in executing that plan.

Third: You will not win consistently without a great culture.

It is a truism that great players want to play on great teams. High-performance players, regardless of personality type, are driven to be their best. They won't play (for long) on a losing team or for a mediocre coach. If a coach is a weak leader and/or can't create a winning culture, great players just won't stay. Worse, if a coach can't or won't deal effectively with under-performers, great players won't stay. All of this is especially true in business. 70% of the time, when an employee quits an organization, he or she leaves because of the actions (or lack of action) of their immediate manager or supervisor.

High turnover is like giving away money, and the vast majority of the time it is created by poor leadership. Ineffective performance management is also a major contributor to disengagement and poor morale. Who is responsible? The leader, whether we are talking sports or business. Lesson No. 3: Invest in your leaders, especially at the mid-management level. You can have a great company and a single under-performing manager can ruin your culture.

Wow... Kelly is someone who can both inspire and enable sales teams with both strategy and execution. His radio program is on Mondays at 3pm CST (7am on Tuesdays, Sydney time, for those here in Australia). Here is the podcast library and his interview with me is episode 49. My interview starts about half way through the program (after Suzanne's interview).

Finally, here is an article about why cricket has a great culture... the response following an elite player's death (Phil Hughes) after being struck by fast ball delivery was incredible. Kelly is right on the money when he links the sporting elite to business leadership.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by: @ Kelly Riggs 2015


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