American Football

From as far back as I can remember, businesses have never been shy from using a strong sporting analogy to breathe life into stuffy corporate culture. Whether you’re working on a ‘slam-dunk’ presentation or you’re an investor looking to take a ‘punt’ on something, there always seems to be a sporting scenario to match the business need, ‘horses for courses’ if you will.

Whilst the comparisons can often seem trite, the publication of Michael Lewis’s ‘Moneyball’ in 2003 served notice to the wider business community that the path to enlightenment is often just as likely to be found on a baseball diamond via sabermetrics as it is to be found in the boardroom via profit and loss charts.

As a rule, we never put ourselves forward for awards – there are countless of them in our industry – having always felt our energies were better channelled into supplying the best possible service to our clients, rather than filling in forms and seeking trophies to stick in a cabinet in reception.

It did however, set me to thinking – what are the drivers of the growth we have consistently seen that could help other businesses? And perhaps more specifically, was there a handy sporting analogy to illustrate my thinking?

I’ve always followed American Football, and so with that in mind, here’s how I think you can try to win the business Super Bowl.

  1. The player is paramount
Your most precious commodity is your staff. As an example, we only hire the very best to work in our contact centre – over 80% have a degree and as professional actors they come with an amazing skill set – clear voices, superb listening skills, versatility and intelligence. They are trained communicators, and just like the big teams in the NFL, from an over-subscribed and competitive market-place, we only ever draft the very best.

Like sports stars, your staff need nurturing and supporting. We help our staff find acting work through our own in-house agency ‘RSVP Artists’ and we give them time off for castings and jobs. No one player is bigger than the team, but I’ve found the more you can help someone with their own professional development – be it within the business, or with goals outside of it – the more you will be repaid by them in return. Look after your players, keep the locker room happy, and you’ll remain competitive.

  1. Pick a good quarterback.
The quarterback is arguably the most important position on the team. They are the leader, they call the plays and they inspire confidence. When you’re looking for managers, ask yourself who you would want to be in a huddle with. Identify your managers as people who get the team’s respect, who can not only steer them to victory but also pick them up after a defeat.
  1. Be strong on offense.
A good NFL team is always looking for ways to score. Translated into business this means you should always remain proactive in developing your services. Being creative, looking for new opportunities, always pushing for the next deal – these positive moves are like a good offensive line looking for the best pass and the next completion. Equally, your offensive strategy needs to be flexible. If you see a blitz coming, can you call an audible and change your strategy. Just as a good NFL team needs a varied, diverse play-book, your business strategies need to be fluid, adaptable and keep your opposition on their toes.
  1. Defense is your foundation.
Most NFL commentators will tell you that defense (US spelling!) is just as vital if not actually even more important than offense when it comes to winning Super Bowls. A good defense protects the advantage the offense delivers. They are looking to anticipate tactics and counter effectively. In the world of business, this is much like making sure that you protect your current revenue streams, that you work just as hard to look after existing clients and customers as you do to try and gain new ones, and that you constantly assess and then re-assess the market space for any changes. Are your competition using the same tactics as you? Are you covering all the angles? You can have the best offense in the NFL, but if you can’t protect what you have, it counts for nothing.

These four key things aren’t always easy to get right, and in my own experience a good business finds a way of balancing them all together. That’s exactly what successful NFL teams have – the right balance.

The famous American Football Coach Vince Lombardi once said “individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” So whilst our offices at RSVP are far removed from the grid-irons and astro-domes of the USA, I personally believe that the application of learning from the NFL is as good a way as any to improve and grow your business.