Build your business like a championship sports team

Vision, leadership and the right players can build a winner. Photo: AP

MANILA, August 8, 2013 – Sports, just like everything else today, is not all about competition. The reality is, team sports in general operates exactly like a business, and as such these organizations are always looking to get that edge over the competition by bringing in the best talent, system and brain trust that they can afford.

In business, goals should always be set for the long-term. Sports teams, as much as they want to build for the long-term have a more pressing schedule to succeed because of the short window of opportunity that consistent winning can afford them. Hence, their short-term goals should always be aligned with the long-term.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws during NFL football training camp on Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez).

Building championship contending teams usually takes a couple of years at minimum, depending on the organization’s philosophy. Once all things are in place, the window for success shrinks with each passing year.

Management in both corporate and organized sport settings also plays a huge part in realizing the organization’s goals. Sports teams and companies that have top-notch management are usually the most successful. The front office should know how to capitalize on the assets that are available to them and must possess the skill to utilize them effectively.

In the past decade, there are successful NFL teams that have patiently built Super Bowl champion teams through the draft. They are the Packers, the Giants, the Ravens and the Patriots. The San Francisco 49ers have recently applied the model of building the team through the draft and have had stellar results for the past two years.

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Knowing the market is also vital to an organization’s success. In an informative (and mostly hilarious) discussion by retired NBA players, they stressed that general managers should make moves that track with their demographic and locale, either in a big or small market.

Company managers should also be aware of elements such as these in order to provide up-to-the-minute input into a detailed action plan involving the moves they are required to make. Veteran companies and start-up companies alike should have managers that know the ins and outs of their industries as a whole and gauge the resources that they have in order to be competitive.

A tale of two turnarounds

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Yahoo has been a fixture in the minds of people who have access to the Internet for more than a decade. The company was a clear industry leader for a time, but faltered badly and notoriously when it did not capitalize on vast potential of their growing online market sector. They relied on managers that made too many mistakes which sucked the potential out of the company.

Enter Marissa Mayer, a former Google executive who has recently taken over the reins of this once industry leading site. Her hiring brought about a high level of enthusiasm among industry watchers because of the proven skills she brings to the table.

Since Mayer took over, Yahoo has been heading to the right direction. The company’s stock prices have risen to heights not seen in years. Ranging from Mayer’s memo banning employees working from home to her acquisition of up and coming synergistic companies, she’s shaken up Yahoo’s confused and sometimes complacent corporate culture.

In addition, she is intensifying Yahoo’s mobile presence, a key evolving area that is likely the way of the future. These moves have shown that this CEO has a plan to de-clutter the unnecessary things that the company has been doing and come up with a laser-like focus on the new goals that were set.

Just like a sports team general manager, Mayer exerts a strongly hands-on approach when it comes to hiring. She wants to assemble the best team available to meet the goal of the company, which is amplifying the great things that are already present. Her habit of insisting that she meet every single applicant for the position may have its pros and cons, but ultimately she gets the right person for the job.

This kind of managerial style works when the key manager knows the industry inside and out. For example, in Yahoo’s case, Mayer’s laser-like focus on technologies and personnel translated to the success of Yahoo’s popular weather app, which garnered rave reviews.

The jury is still out on whether the recent success of Yahoo can be sustained with Mayer at the helm, but the company is headed in a positive direction, a key indication that things are currently going well.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and the west coast offense concocted by football genius Bill Walsh arguably defined the NFL during the 80’s and early 90’s. The San Francisco 49ers were a dynasty during those years because of their compelling excellence on the gridiron. But no one can remain at the top forever. The team fell off the upper echelon at the start of the past decade and has only recently started to regain its standing among football’s finest.

The Niners’ front office did not have a contingency plan when the superstars of yesterday’s teams began to move out of the Bay Area one by one. They made a few bad draft decisions, two of them being a failure to pick 49er fans and top college stars Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the draft. To be fair, no one could have predicted that Tom Brady would be one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game; and drafting Alex Smith over Rodgers likely looked like s good idea at that time.  

Enter Jim Harbaugh, a 13 year quarterback in the NFL and coach for Stanford before calling the plays for San Francisco. He inherited a team that he felt had talent but proved unable to bring out its true potential. The team Harbaugh now was running as coach already has legitimate NFL stars like, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and Vernon Davies on the roster when he arrived.

The problem, as he soon discovered, was that Harbaugh’s predecessors failed to instill a winning attitude in the locker room. Harbaugh set to remedy that by choosing to trust his players’ better instincts while showing them how to win as a single, unified team. He also gave the much-maligned Alex Smith confidence to lead the team, a decision that ultimately rewarded San Francisco fans with another classic moment in Candlestick Park.

In two years since Jim Harbaugh became the head coach, the 49ers were transformed from NFL also-rans to NFC Champion and Super Bowl contenders. And the moves to improve the team have not stopped.

Last year Harbaugh rolled the dice by handing the reins of the team to up and coming superstar Colin Kaepernick. The move was debated for weeks during that time but ultimately proved successful when San Francisco played in the Super Bowl and ended up only one play away from hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

It would not be fair to the 49er front office to give Jim Harbaugh all the credit to San Francisco’s resurgence, however. General manager Trent Baalke also did a lot behind the scenes. After all, he was the one who hired Harbaugh in the first place, as well as making the moves to get the top players in the draft as well as acquiring free agents at a steal. The new NFL season will be upon us soon, and NFL analysts are already putting the Niners on top of the charts as the team to beat of 2013.

Organizations succeed by having a vision that can be broken down into actionable steps. Management plays a significant role in executing the plan and achieving the goal that was set.

An organization is not just about its management. It also depends on the people who do the specific tasks that the management hires and assigns them to do. Just like Yahoo and the 49ers, it takes a dedicated leader to see things through the tough times. But success also depends on people working for and with management in order to succeed and win those big games in the future.


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Johann Carpio

Johann has a degree in Philosophy and Human Resource. He is a business development specialist at Xight Interactive


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