As we approach the January championship games for American college and professional football, I am pondering how this sport is similar to the way the CFO, CIO, and other executives work with their managers and employees who must improve an organization’s performance using analytics, Big Data, and integrated enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) methods.
My list of similarities has two categories: (1) game-related, and (2) human behavior-related.
The goal Ultimately the objective in football is to win. For commercial companies, winning involves constantly seeking a competitive advantage. For public sector government agencies it is to improve service to meet citizens’ needs.
Coaches and players Responsibilities are at two levels. Managers are like coaches who create winning game plans and teach players. Employees are like football players who are responsible for carrying out their managers’ plans.
Playbook and signal calling A football coach’s playbook is like the executive team’s formulated strategy. The playbook provides instructions on how to advance the ball toward the goal line the improvement actions to keep winning. Quarterbacks and the defensive captain give instructions for plays and player formations similar to how managers assign tasks and priorities. An organization’s playbook is increasingly displayed in a strategy map from which a balanced scorecard is derived.
Equipment IT provides the software, hardware, and communications technology necessary for the worker to perform. IT’s assets are comparable to football player helmets and pads and also to the analytics software for analysts to solve problems the way that football coaches understand a competitor’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses.
Quarterback audibles As with any plan, something often happens that requires making adjustments. Quarterbacks shout out and change the plays at the line of scrimmage. IT is discovering adjustments caused by the cloud, in-memory computing, tablets, mobile devices, and social media. Executives react to market changes and competitor moves.
Pre-season training camp Football training camps prepare players for competition. Many organizations begin their fiscal year with offsite sales or strategy “kick-off” meetings for a similar purpose. Some have in-house education and training departments.
The locker room Football teams have facilities that are much more than dressing rooms they are also exercise and rehabilitation areas that can help a team get their minds and bodies ready for the game field. Similarly, organizations create environments with offices, meeting rooms, refreshment break nooks, and cafeterias. Employees need an atmosphere where they can work to attain their fullest potential.
Practice field Prior to game day, football players scrimmage on well-groomed practice fields. The CFO and IT ideally provide employees, especially analysts, with tools to perform what-if scenarios and test their hypotheses with control groups to gain insights and foresights to make better decisions.
Backup players Injuries in sports require teams to have bench strength where a backup player is fully prepared to replace the first-string player. Similarly, in organizations managers are tasked to train understudies in case of promotions, illness or employee turnover. Succession plans are ideally in place.
Talent scouts Professional sports teams recognize that with time, aging players will retire. Talent scouts identify new players who can fill the shoes of the veterans. In organizations, a skilled human resources department continuously seeks internal and external talent to step into open job positions.
Human Behavior-related Similarities:
Leadership, courage, and vision Head football coaches hire qualified staff, and quarterbacks and linebackers guide the players. These key personnel have vision on how to win. Similarly, executives and key managers exhibit leadership by providing examples of exceptional role model behavior, vision, and inspiration.
Conditioning and preparation Football players are in excellent shape with stamina. Pre-game preparation primes players to execute plays without mistakes. Similarly, organizations now advocate employee health and wellness programs, and ideally sufficient workforce training to minimize errors in their work.
Motivation, attitude, and drive Athletes in all sports are aided by coaches to encourage them to give their best performance. Likewise, executives and managers are tasked to inspire employees and provide constructive feedback and, more formally, compensation and bonus pay-for-performance schemes to reward behavior that improves the organization.
Pride and believing in superiority Winning sports teams and individual players are convinced they are better than their opponents. In organizations, effective managers are supportive of employees to aid them to be the best they can be for a competitive edge. They should respect employees develop an atmosphere of dignity and honor when working for the organization.
Teamwork With professional sports teams you play for the name on the front of your team’s jersey and not the personal name on the back. In organizations, a few employees can be stars, but usually it is a team effort that improves organizational performance, not an individual’s effort. Together everyone achieves more (TEAM). There is no “I” in team. IT cannot obstruct analysts who seek easy and flexible access to data and the ability to manipulate it. Analysts must also collaborate with IT that has needs for data governance.
Learning from mistakes and surviving tests Perfection does not exist in sports. Football linemen miss blocking assignments and receivers run wrong patterns. These errors are rarely repeated in a game. Similarly, high-performing organizations that have tolerance for errors by employees benefit by learning from mistakes.
Determination, Perseverance and Grit
I was a two-year varsity football letterman playing a defense linebacker at Cornell University. I relate my experiences on the field to experiences on the job. The professional and college football championships will conclude with the number one team at the end of the season. That team will have demonstrated determination, perseverance, and grit to win. It is not much different with organizations striving to improve their performance. They have no “could’ve” or “should’ve” in their vocabulary; instead, they focus on “must have.”
I will close with a quote from William Jennings Bryan, a famous US lawyer and orator. He said, “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”
Gary Cokins is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker and author in advanced cost management and performance improvement systems; previously a principal consultant with SAS. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more of Cokins' unique look at the world, visit his website at www.garycokins.com.
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