A Game Plan and a Scoreboard: What Business Can Learn from Sports

Lonny Geiman

By Lonny Geiman 

Editor’s note:  Lonny Geiman is the owner of Bandura Plus, a Kansas based performance consulting and coaching business. Bandura Plus helps organizations achieve high performance results by assisting clients with strategic and succession planning, leadership training for front-line supervisors, and improving human resource practices. Geiman and his team work on-site bringing training and development solutions to their clients.

Geiman’s appreciation for agriculture and respect for livestock goes back to growing up and working on a farm and ranch in Kansas. After years in a corporate background and several sales training roles, Geiman started Bandura Plus five years ago, recognizing a facilitating need in feed yards and dairies to assist with strategic planning and to develop depth in leadership. Geiman and his team are passionate in assisting clients achieve more and focus on blending them with the Bandura Plus team, all of whom have rural agriculture roots. 

This is the first in a series of articles he will present with insights on these topics.

He can be contacted at [email protected] or 620.960.8322 and the webs site www.BanduraPlus.com

Most all of us have attended some major sporting event in our lifetime whether you are a sports enthusiast or not. We have witnessed the energy of thousands of fans cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs for the home team. Many of these high fiving fans have never met the person in the seat beside them prior to the event. The thread that bonds the crowd of complete strangers is their common purpose to identify themselves with the home team. You hear it in their words when they refer to the team with phrases like “We look good today and our running game is coming together.”

Now picture in your head this exciting game without the following elements:

  • Your team is hoping to win, but came today with little or no plan to win
  • There is no scoreboard in the stadium
  • There are no goals, end zones, or yard markers to shoot for
  • There are no coaches on the sidelines calling plays

This would change the dynamic of the sporting event incredibly. For those watching or playing in the game there would be no way to measure success or progress. How quickly would this so called game become boring, frustrating, and all the passion and energy begin to fade away? Players would leave the field in time and paying customers would exit the stadium.

Think about the altered game as described and imagine “why” you as a player would lose your heart for playing? Somewhere along the way each of us would begin to ask ourselves if the grind is really worth our best effort. Our minds would fill with questions… what are we doing here? What is the purpose of this game? How am I doing?  Where is this going? Our once passionate energy would throttle down until we choose to leave or continue by going through the motions and giving the minimum effort.

Gallup Inc. is an American-based performance reporting business known for its polls and reporting studies. Gallup reports that 7 out of 10 employees would take a different job if offered. This is a tough reality facing all business organizations today. This statistic means we have a small number of our employees who are putting their best effort forward, but the majority of  employees are throttled down to minimum effort and or to the extreme of causing problems and dragging others down. Gallup estimates employers lose on average $3,400 per $10,000 in annual wages they pay disengaged poor performers.

Whether you’re the head coach of a sports team or the owner or manager of a dairy operation, creating a consistent high performing team year in and year out is the challenge. What can we learn from sports teams that win year after year and pull in the same direction?

John Wooden was a successful college basketball coach for years at UCLA. Mr. Wooded quoted “You can lose ballgames with having good players on the team, but you can never win without having good players on the team.”  I share with dairy owners that their employee team is no different. If we are to grow, get better, be more productive, and make more money, then we really just have just two choices in developing a winning team. Go out and recruit championship caliber players, or develop the players we currently have.

Having a focus to do both should be part of the game plan. If we are focused on developing the right culture, we will attract the right people. In the short term, however, growing the skills of our current team is key.

First, organizations must acknowledge what they have control over and what they don’t. What they do have control over is creating a strong team culture. Often I hear management say an employee left them after just a few months. That employee just didn’t work out or their heart was somewhere else.  The reality is that may or may not have been the case.  The underlying question we must ask ourselves is this. “Are we doing everything on our management end to set our employees up to flourish or flounder?”

Like high performing successful sports teams, make sure your organization has clearly achieved putting three important success foundations in place.  A consistent performing team always has a good game plan so employees understand the vision of where the organization is going.  Give clarity to each team member what is expected of them in their role with goals to shoot for. Coach and communicate with your people frequently by giving them feedback. No team player ever walks onto the field perfect. The only way for employees to grow and improve is to give them positive and constructive feedback.  Management that chooses to not communicate frequently and coach their team members is like putting a quarterback on the field who hates to pass or run. It just will not create desired results.

Step 1: Create a clear plan

At the beginning of the season the coach talks about the conference championship at the end of the season and describes what it will look like, feel like, and how proud each one of the players will be to be a part of it. The coach talks about how each one of them plays an important role and how coming together as a team is much more important than individual talent not pulling together. The coach knows without saying as he scans his team down on one knee that they can’t and won’t all be superstars. His primary goal is to get their buy in that each one of them is important in achieving success as a team.

A team plan can change often based on various conditions. The main point is to create an initial plan. Ask for feedback from the team and play offense. If conditions call for the plan to adjust, then share that with your team.

Team players feed on energy of being part of something that is much bigger than just earning a paycheck. They want to know they are valued and appreciated. Like in sports there must be targets such as end zones and goals to be shooting at.  This is the first step in creating the engagement.  It’s the most important ingredient in providing energy for us to lock arms, pull together, and grind it out. Get a game plan and share it.

Step 2: Define what’s expected

Gallup reports that on surveys done with employees that 4 out of 10 employees clearly understand what’s expected of them in their role. Those numbers suggest organizations do a poor job in pointing employees toward success. We often merely expect employees to go do a good job without clearly defining what a good job looks like.  A mere job description is a start. However, it is key to define success to team members about performance expectations and you’re your core values – the attitudes and behaviors expected.

Step 3: Coach your people

There is nothing worse when employees catch me and say that no one says anything to them unless they do something wrong.  What would any sporting event look like with a coach who checks in with their people every once in a while. Employees want and need a scoreboard. Why do we call a huddle in sports? It’s because we are trying to be proactive and play offense instead of just reacting to what comes our way.

We have to coach our team members on the best way they respond. On our teams our people learn and respond in different ways in addition to having different age groups and cultures. Keep in mind that the primary goal of any supervisor is to make their people better. Being a great supervisor or coach is about pulling your people and up instead of pushing on them and tearing them down.

Winning on the field or in business is about doing the right things consistently with your people. Remember there is no such thing as a successful business. There is only successful growing people that make for a successful business.