Business Lessons from Football

Businesses could learn a lot from football

As we wind down the football season, with the Super Bowl the only remaining game, I shed a tear.  I love watching football.  College football, pro football, Canadian League football…you name it.  During college bowl season, I can literally plop myself down on the couch and start watching at noon and finish at midnight.

One thing that I really love about football is the fact that it is broken up into a series of plays.  The offense calls a play, runs it, and sees what the result is.  They then call the next play depending up the results.  First and ten, run for 5 yards.  Next play could be a run or a pass for the first down.

Businesses could learn a lot from football.  In essence, they are calling plays every day.  The Annual Operating Plan is a play.  The Marketing Plan is a play.  The Acquisition Integration plan is a play.  Plays are nothing more than plans that need to be executed by a group of people.  When businesses execute plays well, it is called Operational Excellence.  It is called Execution Excellence.  It is called financial success.

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What can we, as business leaders, learn from football to achieve Operational Excellence?

Good football teams do three key things:

  • Everyone knows the play – Football players memorize the play book. They know exactly what they should be doing for each and every play that is called.
  • Everyone practices – Memorizing the play book is not enough. Players have to physically practice the play Business Lessons From Football business lessons from football Business Lessons From Football Business Lessons From Footballdozens of times before it can be executed flawlessly on the field.
  • Everyone is focused on the same result – team members on offense have different roles in each play. Sometimes they run.  Sometimes they block.  Sometimes they catch a pass.  Whatever the role on a given play, they are all aimed at the same result.  Move the ball forward as far as possible.

How do these elements of football success apply to the business of Operational Excellence?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does everyone know the play? Can you walk around your organization and ask anyone “What is our objective for this year?” And get a direct answer immediately?
  • Do your employees practice? In the context of business, this means “Do your employees constantly strive to move things forward, learning from their mistakes?”  You can’t have your employees practice every activity before actually performing it.  However, you can ask that they constantly strive to move things forward.  Do you know if they are?
  • Is everyone pulling in the same direction? Even if your employees know the play and are striving to move things forward, is everyone working in a way that is mutually supportive to the overall company goal?  How can you tell?  Having your employees working hard at cross-purposes is harmful.

There is a new discipline of Result Management (Results Management)  that is emerging that helps organizations operate more like high-power football teams.  It helps make sure that everyone is on the same page, pulling in a common direction and is held accountable.

Let me know your thoughts about how football applies to business.

By the way, which college football team has won the most national championships?  Alabama?  Oklahoma? Notre Dame?  USC?  I bet that you aren’t even close.  It is Princeton.  Check out the Wikipedia article:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_football_national_championships_in_NCAA_Division_I_FBS

As a Princeton alum, I take great pride in that statistic.  Of course, I have to overlook the fact that most of the “titles” were in the late 1800’s, but I have to hold on to what I can.

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Meagan M. Flores
Meagan M. Flores
Meagan M. Flores is the Vice President of Marketing for AchieveIt. A genuine 'problem-solver', when Meagan isn't nose-down in the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, you can find her leveraging her expertise spanning early stage startups to mature growth enterprises to comment trends and best practices related to strategy development and execution, leadership and revenue marketing.