February 7, 2012
There are enough sports clichés to fill Madison Square Garden. Most of them pummel the obvious and are most frequently heard from the tier-4 announcers at the Raison Bran Bowl. You may consider it a cliché, but the following statement-of-condition deserves closer consideration: the concept of building a championship culture. Sadly, the very premise simply doesn't fit the plan of some companies and their leadership. Others who see things differently may be entertained by the following observations.
In your whole life, in your entire career, there may be only four or five times when you're on a true mission of greatness. If you happen to be there now, it's essential you recognize and buy-in to the perceptions and practices required to carry on.
I remember Pat Riley's description of one of his championship years with the Lakers. In the first minutes of a crazed euphoric locker room celebration, champagne was dripping from coaches and players as emotion escalated by the minute, all playing out before a gaggle of reporters. One of them shoved a camera and microphone in Riley's face and asked in a challenging tone, "What about it coach? Can you win again next year?" This is the place where most coaches would follow the protocol of humility and reply with a polite cliché such as "Aw heck, maybe...if we stay healthy and luck stays with us, gosh, we probably have a shot." Instead Riley slapped it all aside. "I flat-out guarantee it." Hearing this, one of the Lakers later admonished the coach, reminding him it was a heavy burden ... and anyway Riley wasn't on the floor, the players were.
Riley wasn't drunk on post-game champagne nor full of brio. A great coach never stops coaching, and a great leader never stops leading. What Riley was really doing was setting the standard for a mission as opposed to ifs, ands and buts often tossed around after a great victory, because those caveats and qualifications uttered by coaches and managers really are escape clauses and excuses for failure in disguise. The difference between a team, a car dealership, or a radio group winning occasionally while their counterparts win most of time is explained by the concept of "championship culture." A prudent organization creates cushions as insurance against adversity. Average organizations create cushions to sit on. Outstanding ones use them as springboards to attain the next level of greatness. In football context, it's the difference between the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots. Both teams have abundant NFL talent.
A business mission is likely to succeed if:
- it puts a clear concept in front of raking in money,
- gets rid of the "Lone Ranger" mentality where one or two people are the stars,
- hires for attitude and trains for skills,
- vigilantly adjusts for changes in competition,
- identifies what's needed to win repeatedly, and
- develops its talent by comparing each "player" to their competitors' players as opposed to people on their own team.
If you can improve 10 salespeople by 1% each week, over four weeks, you'll have improved your sales skills by 40% this month. If you can coach five air talents to improve 2% every month, you'll achieve a 120% performance increase over the next year. Dynasties in any field begin with relentless determination, and sustain through a championship culture by outthinking and outworking competitors. Championship cultures end when leadership changes or the "disease of me" overrides "the greatness of us." Success is never final (but it can last a long, long time).