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Competition: Fuel for your entreprenuerial flame

by Maria Muto-Porter

While enjoying March Madness, a young sportsperson’s fancyturns to thoughts of… competition. If we can distract you away from what’s happening in New Orleans, let’s imagine that your company is an NCAA basketball team.

For those who are not familiar with the spring festival of large balls and small hoops, the NCAA playoffs are set up as a series of brackets, with teams matched up based on a combination offactors, including regular season performance and the alignment of the stars. As teams continue to win, they advance in a sort of dance. These brackets cull the initial 68 teams down to 16 schools (the sweet 16) after the first weekend of play to eight(the elite eight). Currently we’re down to the final four, who will fight it out this weekend.

In the same way, you may have a business in an environmentwith many other companies that on the surface seem pretty similar. What makes your YouTube production company, for example, so much better than the one further down the virtual block? While some companies may have a history that makes potential customers assume a level of competency – like Baylorhas – others could have been this year’s Cinderella team. And when it’s time to play, it all comes down to the next game, and the next.

So ask yourself, does my company have the ability to hit those brackets with the will to sweep through the sweet 16 and move on to the elite eight? Does it have the stamina to be one of the final four? And when the time comes, will my firm emerge as the champion?

If you want to beat the best in your bracket, it’s time to commit to doing what it takes to make it happen. Consider these insider tips to help your team make the cut.

Sound Practice: Before the first game, you’d better be prepared to play. Do you have systems in place to handle all customer requests? Have you actively looked for potential problems and solved them before they happened? Does your team know how to hand off responsibility or step up and take the shot when it’s their turn? You want to make those moves part of their muscle memory, so that they know exactly what to do at every step in the game.

Good Scouting: Do you know how your competition operates? From individual performances by the hot dogs to their coach’s favorite plays, you need to find out how they work so you canunderstand what makes you better.

Strong Coaching: Are you a leader that your team willingly follows? Do you know how to keep everyone happy and working well together? Are you outlining good strategies that work even against tough competition?

Adjust Play: Are you constantly watching your team interact with the other team to determine what’s working and what’s not? In March Madness, it’s not the first quarter that counts, it’s the final one. The coach and team that can make adjustments in real time is the one with the best chance of winning.

Lead with Your Stars: Are some of your people exceptional in one role or another? Any good coach knows that success depends on drawing the best possible performances from thosestars. What motivates them? What’s holding them back? They’re your top athletes – make sure you do what it takes to keep them in shape and ready for each game.

Build a Strong Bench: Even if your starters can do the job, you can’t rely on them all the time. You need to have other players to draw on to give your stars a break. If your team is great but only an inch deep and you suffer one injury, the game is over. It’s great to rely on your top people, but even your benchwarmers serve an important purpose. Cross training and succession planning make a big long-term difference during the rough and tumble play in March.

Avoid the Playoff Mentality: You’ll see it over and over in college athletics. In regular season play the team shines. Thenthings change in the playoffs. There’s more stress, higher expectations, and the teams are all good. Are you the kind of coach and are your employees the kind of people who can stand strong as things get tougher? Will your company step up when asked, or be yesterday’s sports news?

Sell the Sizzle: Your team may have all the talent in the world – or at least as much as the next team – but without that energy and will to win, it means nothing. Be sure to keep your team motivated, excited without becoming anxious, and confident but not arrogant. This means more than a good pep talk. Your team has to believe down to their bones that your company is the best.

Change Strategies: What worked to set you apart when there were 16, or dozens, of companies like you won’t be as effective against only three. Take a close look at every step in the process and play up those tactics that will work best then and now. For example, maybe a competitive advantage such as price or service quality flushed out all those also-ran teams, but you know that when it’s down to the final four, you’re all tops in your industry. What else do you have in your skill-set that will take you to the next level? What about customization, convenience, or the best foul-shot percentage of any team in the finals?

In any sport, it’s all about overcoming the other team and owning the arena by the end of the evening. Your game is business. So take a break and spend a few minutes watching the final games of this year’s March Madness. I’ll bet you walk away with some new plays that will crush your competition.

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One Response to Guest Blogs

  1. Jeffrey Park Jones says:

    Hmmmmm, since I wrestled rather than playing round ball, I won’t be watching the games this weekend. I just don’t care as I’ve seen all the various things any of the players can manage to do.

    However, this entry can be likened to the business world without using, in my case, a very limited analogy. These insider tips can be related to the following business practices.

    1. Disaster Recovery – identify possible problems, of any sort, and develop plans or steps to handle, transfer or to live with them.
    2. Team structure – are skills known and appropriately applied
    3. Metrics – With known expectation is hand, the data needed to assess whether of not these expectations can be met must be collected and analyzed.
    4. Leadership – The leaders need to formulate a vision of the future and communicate that vision is such a way as to get others to work toward it.
    5. Communications – People need to be kept informed of the vision of the future as well as the steps needed to achieve it and progress along the way.
    6. Performance Management – Reward the behaviors that are wanted and apply consequences to those that are not wanted. For example, quit rewarding fire fighting and reward efforts that had and followed a plan with no negative incidences.
    7. Market Focus – Decide what to focus on such as customer focus or innovation or being flat better at what is done than others in the same market space.

    I admit that I’m not sure if the focus of this blog entry is to play basketball better or to do a better job managing a firm and its business. This isn’t a critique, it’s just the thoughts that came to mind as I read it.

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