What Can We Learn About Strategy from Football?

football and strategic planningWe’re past the unofficial end of summer in the US — Labor Day Weekend. This time also marks the beginning of two more important seasons: football season and strategic planning season. This is without a doubt my favorite time of the year. Not only do I get to watch my sport of choice but also have the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite consulting practices which is helping my clients develop their strategic plans for the coming year.

It’s possible I appreciate both given their similarities. As we anticipate watching our favorite teams on the road to a championship and as we envision success for our own organizations, here are a few key points about strategy to remember:

  1. Play to your strengths — Many times I see companies and individuals alike complete a SWOT — short for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — analysis and concentrate more on how they can alleviate their weaknesses rather than how they can take better advantage of their strengths. If your business is good at customer service, discuss how it can be excellent at customer service. Concentrating on speed to market when it’s far from a core competency may just shift attention from what is most important to your brand. Similarly, it doesn’t make much sense to develop an elaborate running game when your offensive line is below standard.
  2. Sometimes it’s Better to Keep it Simple — Implementation and execution is the key to any strategic plan or playbook. When it comes to my clients, I would rather see a plan written on a napkin that is executed to perfection than a well-written 150-page strategic plan that sits on the shelf that no one understands. When a team has a rookie quarterback, sometimes a few simple plays that you know he will execute at a high level can work well even though the defense knows what’s coming.
  3. Engage the Whole Team — While ultimately decisions come from the top, there is much value in gaining buy-in from staff on your strategy. For example, if service standards are drafted first by the front lines, staff are more likely to adhere to them than if they are mandated from the top. Likewise, when a wide receiver has a favorite route that he runs very well it would be wise to include it in the playbook.
  4. Allow for Deviation from the Plan — In business and in football, sometimes the best plays come from unexpected opportunities. Just because it wasn’t accounted for in the original plan, just as a quarterback scrambles for a touchdown during a broken play, if your business has the resources to take advantage of an opportunity that is aligned with your brand and culture it would be wise to take advantage of it.

Most important, don’t forget to have some fun during the strategy process as well as its implementation. Just as many of us enjoy watching football on the weekends, let’s bring that same passion to our business during the week. Here’s to both your strategy and to a great football season!

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