Monday, February 3, 2014

What Can Businesses Learn From Professional Sports

Professional sports have a major impact in our society, don’t they? As I write this, I am one of millions of people across the nation patiently waiting for the Super Bowl. In a few short hours, I will be cheering on my favorite team, watching professional athletes who earn millions in salaries and endorsements, and choosing my favorite $4 million commercial for the year.  Halftime will come and all of us will talk about how we did or didn’t like this year’s show.  The game will end and life will go on as the nation looks forward to the Winter Olympics.

What do professional sports have to do with the way my company does business? 

Whether you are a fan of any of professional sports organization or not, professional sports organizations can teach us a lot about business management.

Last week we focused on the challenge of finding the best fit for the job – not necessarily the right fit. Imagine how hard that is organizationally for professional sports organizations. Recruiting efforts involve thousands of coaches, business professionals (i.e., agents, managers, consultants) and marketing executives. One player, or even head coach, being recruited and/or traded on a team is a precise calculation of what is needed for the organization based on budgetary restraints, statistical analysis, talent, experience, cultural fit, strategic planning, marketability and risk analysis. There are countless hours, and sometimes years, put into the process of on-boarding one player or coach. The recruiting and retaining doesn’t end with the on-boarding process either, due to the fluid nature of the industry. Organization, team performance, injuries – an organization’s structure can change early season or even mid-season. It is incredible in itself for these organizations to operate seamlessly despite the factors that are working against them at all times. So how do professional sports organizations do it – besides finding the best fit of professionals, coaches and players for the team?

Pretty easy answer – teamwork.  As coaches and players band together in a supportive manner to accomplish common goals, their organizations in turn benefit through increased efficiency and productivity, improved employee relations, increased accountability and responsibility, and opportunities for coaches and players to increase their knowledge and skill set from learning through others.

In turn when any organization or business does not encompass an environment of teamwork the results can be disastrous. I am a true believer that every organization is only as strong and successful as its poorest performing employee. When an organization encompasses an environment that is every man or woman for themselves. morale is low, productivity is low and efficiencies are thrown out the door. Think of how poor the quality of work completed is as well. Think of sports teams that have had all-star players without the teamwork environment – on the outside it seems as though they may have a dream team for success – but in reality they perform poorly and likely don’t make it in post-season playoffs (think L.A. Lakers a few years back with Kobe Bryant).

It is easy to see that through professional sports organizations it is important to find the best fit employees for the right job. In turn, recruiting and hiring these people is only half the battle in long-term sustainable success with an organization. Ensuring that the work environment encompasses teams that work together to accomplish goals is crucial in the long-term success of any business.  While I am not encouraging mid-day tackle football in the break room for any organization, I am saying that there is a lot we can learn in how to manage our own businesses and organizations from professional sporting organizations.