The world of business and management is full of sports metaphors, with quotes from greats like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky found on motivational posters throughout corporate offices. The workplace is ripe with clichés about missing all the shots not taken and never giving up in the face adversity, showing that the language of the locker room has become commonplace. But does this language really make a difference when it comes to management? Can sports metaphors actually teach us how to improve business?
In the past few weeks, Rory McIlroy has dominated the sport of golf, winning the PGA Championship and the British Open while rising up the rankings to become No. 1 in the world. At the British Open, McIlroy became one of only seven golfers in the 154-year-old competition to maintain a lead through all four rounds to claim a wire-to-wire victory. It was quite the fete, and McIlroy’s strategy had several close ties to management philosophy.
After the win, McIlroy revealed that two secret words helped drive his success. Those words were “process” and “spot.”
“With my long shots, I just wanted to stick to my process and stick to making good decisions, making good swings,” he said. “Spot” was about putting, and trying to roll the ball over a spot on the green.
Despite leading from the very first day, McIlroy didn’t worry about the scoreboard. Instead he worried about making good swings and putting the ball in the right spot on the green.
If you look at this from a business perspective, McIlroy was focused on his key performance indicators (KPI) – the process and spot – rather than the final score. This strategy is a textbook case of KPI versus results indicators (RI), and focusing not on the results, but on the means to an end.
The author David Parmenter argues that KPIs are common in business, but industries have failed to clearly define many KPIs until recently. Many industries measure performance without taking KPIs into account, which leads to inaccurate measures that ultimately fail in the end.
A golfer doesn’t win by looking at the scoreboard and thinking about a low score. McIlroy’s strategy testifies to the importance of sticking to the basics, and it didn’t require the deep or philosophical clichés we so often expect from successful athletes. Winning is as easy as sticking to the process and rolling the ball over the spot.
There is perhaps no better sports analogy to apply to business, because this strategy transcends departments. Sales, Operations, IT, Accounting, and the C-suite alike can all learn from this mantra and stick to the process. Every successful business has a plan consisting of organized directives. When executed properly, those directives produce wins.
A sales organization may have appointment requirements, phone call expectations, or net new meeting demands. The operations department has facility standards that require a plan, while quality control requires a process or HR systems that need a set method.
A monthly sales quota is an RI, but the KPIs -- the process -- are the calls, appointments, and protocols that gets business done and help reach that quota. By adhering to the process, the team wraps up goals and victories by the end of every quarter or year.
McIlroy saw his spots throughout the tournament, and kept his mind on the process, rather than the trophy that came from winning. Believe in the process, apply it day after day, and victory is obtainable.