From lockers rooms to boardrooms


In an era where competition is always lurking round-the-corner and margins wafer thin, the room for misjudgement in business frankly does not exist. Corporates across the board have invested time and money in implementing new techniques to widen this gap. Operational efficiency has been optimized, new strategies applied and efficiency-eroding processes discarded. Companies that have been through this exercise have encountered victory and have taken the lead for future growth.

But as this whole new avatar of the corporate world emerged, the rules of doing business changed. Competition became cut-throat, leadership tenures were shortened and businesses punished mercilessly atthe slightest hint of weakness or uncertainty. As organizations looked for new yardsticks and tried readjusting to new paradigms, sports manifested itself from time to time as a beacon of hope. Sports, team sports became the benchmark, a guideline, a new standard for the corporate world to follow.

Even at the first glance, business and sports overlap to a great extent. Unrelenting hard work, uncompromising devotion, unbending dedication and an unending commitment to be the best in your domain are the traits of a leader – whether in the world of sports or in the corporate world. From the corporate rooms to the locker rooms, winners have to fight similar roadblocks and overcome situations to reach their respective goals.

There are valuable lessons in sports that become the critical difference between winning and losing. Business owners and managers need to understand and embrace these lessons as they literally determine staying in business or going bust. Let’s look at a few examples with cricket as our metaphor:

1. Sharing a common goal

Every player in the team, whether a batsman, a bowler or the wicket-keeper, knows why he has been selected and what the common goal of the team is. The entire team knowsthat the final destination is winning that game. In cricket this translates into putting a defendable total on the scoreboard, chasing the total on the scoreboard or taking wickets to keep ahead of the game.

In business some employees lack orientation from the word go and are unsure of the game and the role they are playing. Such employees never feel part of the organisation and their performances invariably suffer. It is the responsibility of the organization to ensure that each employee is extremely clear about what their organization has set out to achieve in that year in simple and tangible terms. It is important for the HR and the functional heads to align with their team members and carry them along in achieving the micro and the macro goals of the organization.

2. Knowing the winning stroke

In the game of cricket, every player knows precisely how their actions contribute to their side’s success. Each player has an important and a well-defined role to play. Whether it is in the 10th over of the match or the slog overs, where one run or one wicket can decide between winning and losing, the strategies are well defined. When Dhoni comes out to bat in a T-20 match every other player and team India look forward to Dhoni finishing the match. Dhoni’s role as a ‘finisher’ in the team is amply clear.

In organizations some employees suffer from role clarity. This could be a result of sudden dual reporting due to a project or change of roles or a change of manager after an appraisal cycle. The reasons could be many. Clarifying each employee’s role is critical in ensuring operational efficiencies and in achieving the organization’s objectives. This also ensures that organizations do not lose good resources due to disillusionment and disappointment. It is important for every organization to demonstrate to each employee how their actions contribute to the overall business performance.

3. Playing by the rules

The game of cricket is regulated by an extensive set of rules. For example, a player is barred from ‘ball tampering’ or ‘attempting to distract the striker deliberately’. The rules are public, communicated to each player and applied impartially. Breaking a rule has consequences, such as awarding of free runs, an extra ball or as deemed fit by the umpire and the governing body.ViratKohli was fined a 25% match fee and also handed one demerit point in a match against Afghanistan for too much appealing. This happened during the 2019 world cup. In fact the IPL format has instated a ‘fair play award’ that is given to a team at the end of the season and is calibrated by the number of points they have for fair play.

Similarly in an organization a ‘rule book’ is of utmost importance. It is necessary to clarify to all the employees the dos and more importantly what they cannot do as part of their job and what the repercussions are for transgressing the rules. Employees need to have ample clarity about what is allowed and not allowed. This enables organizations to ensure good ethical practices within the organization and in the eco-system they operate in.

4. Knowing where you stand

In a game of cricket everyone knows what the end result must be. Each player knows the score at every point in time. The scoreboard and the team’s status both are visible. In an IPL or a World Cup scenario every player knows where the team stands in the overall team tally. Each player is aware of his role and how it contributes to the overall success of the team. Let’s look at KL Rahul’s roller coaster ride in this context. In the 2019 World Cup, Rahul was made to bat at No.4 and No.6 before being made the opener. Add to this Rahul was also entrusted the job of a wicket-keeper. Ravi Shastri later claimed that this was an important experiment to understand the depth and variety of Rahul’s talent and how that could be maximized for team India. Rahul adapted well and has since then cemented his position in the Indian team.

In a similar fashion corporate leaders need to be transparent with their teams. Too much secrecy and superiority will result in employee alienation. While job rotations, transfers, change of roles, cross-functional projects are all important for the growth of the organization, taking the said employees along is equally critical. Effective internal communication is the hallmark of great leaders and this enables the company to stand together even in the most turbulent of times.

5. Gauging performance

Each team player receives accurate and timely feedback on his / her game. The team coach and the captain give actionable advice during the game and during a tour or a season.With constructive feedback for improvement, each player can calibrate their game and see immediate and long term performance improvements.For example RishabhPant’s potential is very clear to all who watch him bat. But the pitfalls of his wicket-keeping are also well known to all. This pitches him against Rahul who has carried through both these responsibilities beautifully.

In the same fashion, employees need regular inputs from their managers to understand where they stand with respect to the output expected from them. Monthly,mid-term and year-end discussions that include clear expectation setting and mentoring go a long way in achieving this. Providing employees with timely training and coaching that link directly to performance outcomes are important tools in bridging these gaps.

6. Playing team

The game of cricket is a team game. A group of players all striving to put as many runs or wickets on the board as possible. The most effective players appreciate the dynamics and understand how their position adds to or takes away from others in the team. These are witnessed during an important ‘running between the wickets’ in the last over or scoring no run on the last ball of the over to hand over the batting to the more effective batsman at that point in time. It is the ability to put the team before self in crucial match situations.

In organizations, apart from providing role clarity, breaking down barriers between cross-functional teams is important. Business is a team activity in which marketing, production, operations and finance all work in a collaborative fashion to achieve common organisational goals. Having inter-departmental meetings, being fair in project allocations or assigning team leaders and creating transparency through common project dashboards can be important in ensuring seamless working of cross functional teams.

7. R&R

While there is only one winning team in cricket and the top award is reserved for that team, recognition is also given to individuals for outstanding performance. A player from the losing team could as well be the ‘man of the match’ or win the ‘highest wicket taker’s’ award for a series. To make this theory more effective the IPL format of the game has come up with various award categories like the Orange Cap, the Purple Cap, Maximum Sixes award, Most Valuable player, Emerging Player of the year etc. These ensure that motivations are kept intact and while winning matters, participation and trying one’s best is always recognized.

Similarly in the corporate world too, a lack of R&R is a sure-shot recipe for killing employee motivation. Organizations have to be aware that while creating and rewarding super-achievers is critical to succession planning amongst other goals, awarding only certain individuals will discourage teamwork and demotivate a large majority. Breaking up large goals into smaller measurable team goals will provide opportunities to reward a larger percentage of employees ensuring timely gratification.

Finally, like in sports in business too,a good leadership, role-clarity, teamwork and recognitionare the four pillars of the winner’s philosophy. It is always about the greater good of a team or of the organization. Without that it is just a group of people doing their own thing. The challenge in business, as in sports, is to get them working together smoothly and seamlessly.

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