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It's Time to Rethink Winning in Business

In this article, Gerard Chick outlines what winning in business really means and how building winning teams is crucial in the road to business success.

The sporting analogy has long been a favourite with business leaders. With references to sport such as, "going for gold", "marathon not a sprint", "don't drop the ball" – these aphorisms are regularly trotted in corporate meetings but the only problem is that the analogies don't stand up – let alone jump, kick or score in the business arena.

Most sport is centred on key moments, with weeks, months and even years spent in preparation for that moment. The outcome of a lifetime's work can be determined by a tenth of a second, the ricochet of a ball against wood or the call of a well-intentioned but still human referee.

Success or maybe winning in business is based on a continuous set of individual contributions by dozens of people around the business. Sport is primarily about completing a single task to an exceptionally high standard. Business is invariably a multi-task, multi-layered affair. The single-mindedness of the brilliant fly half would be catastrophic for the corporate high flyer. They would be marked down for lack of big picture thinking and more likely than not sent homeward “tae think again”.

So what then might “winning” in business entail? Or perhaps more to the point, what isn’t it about? We can safely assume that winning is not about visions and mission statements. Having a clear strategy is important, but it doesn’t have to be put into a vision or mission statement. We are often told too that winning is all about having Big Hairy Audacious Goals – a BHAG. Well unless you are a base jumper or some other kind of adrenaline junkie BHAGs are innately scary if not too confronting and carry too high a risk of failure.

As has already been touched on, winning isn’t about great breakthrough ideas –one big initiative. Winning is the outcome of a lot of decisions and activities, not one and not just luck.

Winning is not about a charismatic or celebrity leader. While in many organisations success or failure is often attributed to the CEO, the reality is that in truly winning organisations or teams, there is a group of people, coupled with systems and processes that are difficult if not too boring to write about which make up the winning team. As charismatic as Sir Alex Ferguson might have been, he alone wasn’t the reason why Manchester United were so successful.

Winning is not about formal organisational structure. Structures in winning organisations are being constantly changed, to cope with new projects starting and old ones finishing. Promotions, external challenges, innovation and new organisational themes demand structural change.

Winning is not about marketing promotion. Ask yourself the question, ‘If your organisation had poor products and services over the long term, but great marketing promotion, would it succeed?

Winning is not about profitability alone. Profitability is only one measure of organisational success. Whilst doing well on the financials is important, winning organisations also do well in regard to customers, efficiency, development, employees and key stakeholders, in other words an all-round long term performance is what matters!

In considering the foregoing, let’s contemplate some of the elements of sustained business success:

  • Effective execution - deliverign results, on time and within budget

  • Alignment - systmes, procedures, people and leaders are aligned

  • Agility - as you grow and develop, change! This adaptation is necessary for externally induced changes as well as those induced internally

  • Clear but adaptable strategy - this will allow you to adapt to change and put mistakes right

  • Strong leadership - being able to lead and develop a "following" is far more important than charisma alone

  • A customer and stakeholder view - your focus must be both internal to execute and deliver results and external to be aware of markets and customer needs

  • The right people - it is more important to get the right people rather than the best people. Teams work in harmony and team players (the right people) are not prima donnas and are not into self-aggrandisement 

  • Manage the downside - evaluate risk, plan for risk and minimise those risks, rather than attempting to become risk-free (it will never happen)

  • Balance everything - combine the above! 

So leaders, you must know how to bring the whole team together. How? Well you could start with the following:

Focus on synchronicity -the supply chain through relationships with suppliers and internal stakeholders ties the whole organisations activities together. Ever-closer synchronisation is the key – tighten links between suppliers, your organisation’s operations and your customers.

Build information bridges - to suppliers and your stakeholders. Establish a flow of information among your stakeholders, suppliers and customers and use the information bridge with intensity and to build a common bond of trust.

Seek sustainable relationships - re-examine existing relationships to determine whether they are the most effective and efficient today. How long have you had these relationships? How much has changed in that time? You will not be able to establish a partnership with every supplier and as a consequence it is important to determine which ones will be sustainable.

Determine the strategic changes to make - carve out some time from the daily grind to tightly focus on your supply base and think about the future! Can you deal effectively in the current climate with its volatilities? These considerations are a joint exercise and must take into account other parts of your organisation to determine optimal solutions and you need to think hard and carefully about them.

Advance everyone’s understanding of the value chain - the more people think about their roles and how they affect the organisation, the better they will do their jobs. Appraise them of your value chain and their part in it – promote greater coordination at all levels between SCM people and other parts of the organisation – stimulate innovation through this understanding.

The heart of the problem is that often the language of business is dull. The answer lies not with flawed analogies and the lustre of CEO celebrities but in finding ways to make business interesting by telling stories and importing our passion from the stadium into the office. Let teams know how to achieve corporate goals and ultimately satisfy customers.