You could consider me a “finals” sports fan; watching basketball during the NBA finals and soccer during the World Cup – I call this connoisseur viewership. I am certainly no expert on what exactly all the players are doing out there beyond a pedantic understanding of just get the ball in the net. However, the big picture and the results of the game are crystal clear. There are many lessons that can be learned from the 2014 World Cup as a cautionary exercise for entrepreneurs and life in general. Three lessons in particular can be distilled into the following:
1. A one-man band equals a potential Achilles heel
Having watched the majority of the World Cup via Twitter feeds on my phone, it was amusing to read the memes and alternate realities displayed. One of my favorites which summed things up nicely was the tweet that said: “Argentina has Messi, Brazil has Neymar, The Netherlands have Robbens, and Germany has a team!” (To be fair to Argentina, it was clear that they too had a fantastic team.) If it were the NBA, we could add to the list Miami has (had) LeBron James and San Antonio has a team.
It is obvious that star players can serve as a galvanizing force around which a team can coalesce. However, if the plan is simply to pass the ball to the star, then that team has an inherent vulnerability.
Hence, it is ironic that the strength of the team can at the same time be its Achilles’ heel. This was clearly visible in the NBA finals when the San Antonio Spurs’ objective was to wear out LeBron James and keep him covered on all fronts. We saw the same tactic in action in the World Cup where Germany, well, annihilated anything in their path, but Argentina sure did put up a great fight. As important as a key player is, one cannot ignore the risks. In business, there is the “key-man (or woman)” insurance policy which is for key employees – like the CEO and the like – people who are considered indispensable, without which the company would struggle or cease to survive.
Businesses must think beyond one person. If your business success is dependent on one key person then the life span of the business is directly linked to that person’s health, longevity, creative capacity, stamina, or mood. There are several examples of this in business as well. One that comes to mind is Apple without Steve. Of course Apple is strong and thriving, but yet still vulnerable and becoming increasingly so as competitors emerge from various angles (I’ll leave that topic for another day). A billion dollar business is one thing, but when it comes to small businesses, which tend in many cases to be one-man bands or a one-woman show – then what? The key is to plan beyond oneself. Think a few years out to determine what happens to your business in the event something happens to you. One has to transition to a team mentality.
2. The devil is in the details
Details lie at the heart of success. Winning a game may seem somewhat random, but the positioning of each player is anything but random. It was beautiful to watch Germany’s team work together, each one knowing their role while maintaining enough flexibility to adapt to the situation at hand. As it was commented, this coordination did not happen overnight. It took at least a decade of planning, tweaking, training, learning, the ultimate in German discipline, and accountability. They were accountable to their team, themselves individually, and above all their fans (who by the way kept tabs on the team’s training schedule). This team not only had the physical wherewithal to endure grueling play in the Brazilian sun, but they had a 360 degrees approach using intellect and physical strategy - brain and brawn worked in tandem.
They paid attention to the details as master strategists who cover all the bases with exquisite choreography. (Note Boateng and Kedira in the midfield and wherever they were needed). They were building on their strengths while taking into account the weakness of their opponents, or lack of comparable preparation. They clearly understood that brute force and pizzazz do not a strategy make, nor does a 2014 World Cup win (note to Brazil).
In business, victory goes to the one who pays attention to what is going on and measures progress. Knowing what you’re up against is critical and preparing for it. Who are your competitors really? More importantly, how do your customers perceive you – will they tell you the truth about what they like or would like to see changed or improved? It is your business to find this out. You don’t want the silent treatment from your customers.
It can be a daunting task to focus on endless details, but by creating systems upfront which take into account the details, the day-to-day becomes less stressful and more manageable. Also, build into the systems room for flexibility as nothing is static.
3. Resting on laurels leads to obsolescence
Being lulled into any form of complacency is the ultimate trap in sports and business. Coming to grips with the fact that what worked today may not work tomorrow and may certainly not work in ten years. Keeping nimble, relevant, yet true to your business, brand or company is the ideal balance. Germany should never change their work ethic, nor should Brazil change their joie de vie, but for each to succeed they have to keep on top of the variables.
It has been widely acknowledged that the 2014 Brazil team was not what the world thinks of when they think of Brazilian teams of the past. Times change, hence strategies must change. It is also true that the German team of today is not the same as the one a decade ago. The beauty of the story is that you cannot expect the teams to be the same – players change, technology continues to change, expectations change as well. Taking all these variables into account is an ongoing process. Being able to identify when it’s time to change instead of resisting this inevitability is about being vigilant and keeping your finger on the pulse of deviations from the proverbial norm. When things are too far gone, it becomes necessary to break down in order to build back up – kind of like muscle building.
There are always warning signs, whether one chooses to acknowledge them or not is another story. So how do we know when warning alerts are going off and how do we respond once the alert goes out?
What gets measured, gets managed is another popular business tenet. There are many metrics that can be used to determine success and serve as an alert system. Some familiar ones include – sales in a specific time period, profit, ratio analysis – accounting for inventory turns, liquidity, and anything else considered relevant. If we choose sales as a metric, sales could be seen as the same as scoring goals in a match. Set benchmarks that serve as guideposts over time. Clearly a lot goes into getting a goal, equally with sales. Once you determine the key variables which affect sales you can work specifically on those areas and adjust in order to achieve desired consistent results. This is the beauty of business and sports – there usually is always a second chance to get it right if you’re willing to go back to the drawing board.
As we move forward from the 2014 World Cup, here is a summary of key points. Think like a team working in synch, realizing that this takes time and patience. You may not have the resources to create your dream team all at once, but working steadily toward that goal is what matters. As you progress, the resources will grow; focus on what you can actually do now. Clearly communicate to your team their respective roles while highlighting the importance of each role in achieving one goal. Each role involves details that have to be addressed with accountability. Understand the variables that affect your business success and do not ignore any of them. With that you can join the chorus shouting “Goooooal” for your business!