, , , ,

I’m not a big sports fan.  I tend to skim through games and watch for a few minutes, but I don’t live for sports.  Still, I watch enough to qualify for my chromosomes and I do understand the strategies used in most sports.

On Saturday I caught bits of the Ohio State vs. Illinois basketball game.  It was a close game toward the end and Ohio St. did something that I really like…they played the whole game.  Twice Ohio State was behind by two points and they had several seconds left.  If they scored too soon it would give Illinois the opportunity bring the ball back down court and win the game.

The strategy many teams have in this situation is to stall and go for the last shot.  But Ohio State didn’t follow the traditional strategy.  They shot quickly and gave Illinois the opportunity to win.  The irony is that Illinois did play for the last shot and in both situations they failed.  In the end Ohio State won.

I was happy for two reasons.  First, I was happy to see Illinois lose because the Illini (players and fans) are known for their trash talk. They think it is part of the game.  The second reason is Ohio State won by playing the entire game.  They didn’t stall and try to win in a last second shot for victory.  They tied the game and then played defense.

Go Ohio State!

I’ve never understood the logic of the stall tactic.  I know the only thing that counts is the score when the clock reads 00:00, but the measure of a team is what they can do for the whole game, not just up to the final 40 seconds and then stop playing until the last three seconds.  What type of message does that send?

The Whole Game in Business
I see this attitude creep over into the business world.  I was once told about a manager for a major package delivery company.  He had a budget for labor and equipment.  The manager would get a significant bonus if he was under budget on his labor and equipment, so he deliberately over worked his salaried supervisors, worked understaffed with his hourly employees, and didn’t purchase the needed equipment for the staff to do their jobs.  He ‘won the game’ and got his bonus, but everyone hated working for him.

Some might think that this misuse of people and resources will eventually be discovered.  It is not.  Employees don’t like ratting on their boss because management often fails to act in situations where the manager is a success on paper and sometimes it is the employee that suffers for speaking out.  To my knowledge this manager is still in his position and nothing has changed in five years or more. He might have even been promoted by now.

This is one of the reasons why I don’t like most performance evaluation tools. They may be based on ‘quantifiable’ measurements, but quantifying doesn’t equate to fairness.  I don’t oppose goal setting, but business is and should be a dynamic process.  Goals and performance measures make bean counters happy, but the can often be manipulated to work contrary to the needs of the employees and/or customers.

The focus of any business should be to play the whole game and not work for the score at the end of the ‘quarter’.  This involves Management By Walking Around (MBWA) and letting small groups in the company experiment with new ideas (Skunk Works).  If this sounds like old Tom Peters stuff, it is, but it’s GOOD old Tom Peters stuff.

Tom Peters

I read Tom Peters first book, In Search of Excellence, soon after it was published in 1982, and I have been a disciple of his rants for over 25 years. Of course, you don’t win many corporate popularity contests when you’re guiding principles are reflected by a rejection of the status quo, but I’ve yet to be proven wrong….just fired or let go. I’ve been dusting off some of his books and scanning them again. I believe that almost everything a business person needs to be successful can be found in Tom Peters writings.

We’re facing a new business environment and it’s time we rejected the habits we fell into during the last 10 years.  We can start by going back to the basic question:  What does the customer need and how can we provide what they want, before they want it, and better than they expect?  Get that question right and everything else is easy.

Go Ohio State!