Business and football share a formula for winning

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For about six weeks every year, beginning in late December and continuing through early February, football fans get the ultimate fix: the college bowl games, NFL playoffs, and finally, the Super Bowl. It's an interesting study in winning and losing that separates the champs from the also-rans, even though the also-rans worked mighty hard to get to those games in the first place.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the BCS championship football game between Alabama and Texas, which brought back a lot of memories of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. He used to say that members of a winning team needed five things:

  • Tell me what you expect from me.
  • Give me an opportunity to perform.
  • Let me know how I'm doing.
  • Give me guidance when I need it.
  • Reward me according to my contributions.

Nurturing employees according to Bryant's five steps works for any organization, with particular emphasis on the second point: Give me an opportunity to perform. Once you've hired a potential superstar and that employee understands what you expect, it's time to let the player carry the ball. Coaches can't play, but a better-coached team almost always comes out on top.

Bear Bryant retired with 323 wins over 38 seasons, one of the most successful careers in college football. He took 29 teams to bowl games and led 15 to conference championships. He loved to win. He lived to win.

Business is a lot like football. In business, there's really no playoff system or championship series, but there are plenty of winners and losers. I think Bear Bryant's formula for recruiting players is not unlike recruiting top talent.

He demanded plenty from his players, starting with the recruiting process. "I don't want ordinary people," he said. "I want people who are willing to sacrifice and do without a lot of those things ordinary students get to do. That's what it takes to win."

Hiring well is critical to success in business. I don't want ordinary people either. I want employees who are willing to go the extra mile and who understand that customer satisfaction may require some sacrifice. I'm looking for people who want to win as much as I do. And I am willing to share the spoils of victory with my players.

Just like there are many skill positions on a football team, your business team needs people with a variety of talents to be able to compete. You need:

  1. visionaries, who see the long term;
  2. leaders, who define the mission and motivate others;
  3. implementers, who make things happen; and
  4. infrastructure builders and supporters, who keep the operation running.

In order to compete, you must have players to fill all those slots. Sometimes, skills overlap. Sometimes, you need someone with a special skill. Don't be afraid to call in the "special teams." In football, they often are the difference between winning and losing. Recruit help if you find a weakness.

A good coach preaches cooperation and teamwork. Players run drills and practice situations until they can play their positions in their sleep. They put on their "game faces" and charge onto the field with every intention of winning. Coaches reassess their game plan halfway through to make sure things are still working, and make adjustments if necessary. They make substitutions to strengthen a position.

Your business and your employees should be doing exactly the same. You don't have to be a football fan to see the wisdom in their thinking.

There's one other tidbit of Bear Bryant's wisdom I want to share with you. "Never quit," he said. "It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don't quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don't quit until you reach it. Never quit."

Winners never quit, as the saying goes, and quitters never win. Take some advice from a winner. You may not end up with a fancy trophy or a Gatorade bath, but the rewards will be just as sweet. Winning feels good.

Mackay's Moral: (borrowed from another special football coach, Vince Lombardi): "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."

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