Winning in business

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Winning is the lifeblood of any society. People who work in successful businesses are happier, more motivated and achieve yet more success. Here are some ideas to help you win in your business.

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Check out, April 2008

Winning is the lifeblood of any society. People who work in successful businesses are happier, more motivated and achieve yet more success. Here are some ideas to help you win in your business.


"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing". That’s the well-known quote which exemplifies unfettered competitiveness that came from American football coach Vince Lombardi.

In response to criticism, Lombardi eventually offered a repudiation, implying that what he meant to say was, "Winning is not everything – but making the effort to win is". This gave rise to various versions such as, "It’s not that you won or lost, but how you played the game" or "The important thing is not winning but taking part". After reviewing more of Lombardi's sayings one recognizes that he believed that the commitment to winning was secondary only to ethics, family and community.

Defining "winning" is much like defining "success". The simplistic definitions quickly generate misunderstandings. Clearly unfettered competitiveness does NOT imply that "anything goes", as is sometimes demonstrated in business. Companies like Enron demonstrated crude competitiveness which represented "winning at all costs". California plunged into rolling brownouts during the height of a hot summer while Enron energy traders joked about some little old lady in California not being able to afford her power bills. Their "winning streak" was quickly exposed.

Economic success need not be morally corrupt. Sure, there are those who lose their souls to profit. That view gets refreshed with every new account of corporate cheating. There always will be corrupt jerks in every field, from the priesthood to politics. But most businesspeople want to win the right way. They want to build companies with new ideas. They want a better life for their families, colleagues, communities and society.

Winning, does indeed deal with markets and profits – though that's just part of the goal. Winning is a personal journey. It's about reaching a chosen destination. At its most fundamental, winning is about balanced achievement, not just for an individual, but for an integrated company within the global marketplace.

The Business Game

Business is a game – against competitors on a global scale. Winning or losing can make a significant difference.

In his 1978 book, "The Gamesman", Michael Maccoby describes four types of business personalities: Craftsman (or Artisan), Organizer, Jungle Fighter (or Warrior), and Gamesman. No one individual is purely one type, but rather, includes a mixture depending on the circumstances and personalities.

The Artisan is one who values skill and experience – typically engineers. The Organizer is most effective at developing policies and retaining the status quo – typically financial people. This type of person is needed in times of stability, but is often a big impediment to organizations that require courage to take risks in times of change.

The Warrior is useful during times of turmoil, when tactical changes must be enforced and reductions in force become necessary. The Gamesman values strategic overviews and thrives on rapidly-moving tactical changes. In the fast-moving global business environment today, Gamesman strengths are most recruited for top level positions.

Good Values

It's important to win – but not at the expenses of other values. Beyond just staying "within the law", good business respects ethics and human values. In my view, there are five key elements that exemplify winning: Attitude, performance, teamwork, competitiveness, and values.

Good businesses demonstrate good values, which includes allowing employees to share in the company's values as well as business success. Good businesses are distinguished by social and ethical balance, beyond just "winning". They take the long-term view– expecting all employees to give their time and talent to good, local causes. In turn, this attracts good people with similar values, and helps them to relate and contribute to the balanced objectives.

Much more important than how you operate your business is why you operate the business. Those who believe that it's acceptable to “rape and pillage” to maximize shareholder return usually have only short-lived success. The company does not "win" when it has achieved the financial performance of its business plan alone. Included in the measurement must be contributions to employees, to the community and to society.

Winning businesses should expect all employees (executives, managers and workers alike) to give their time, talents and money back to the community. In many communities where people do not even know their neighbors' names, this is a breath of fresh air. Fun in business is more than just having flex hours or a party during lunch, it is also requires contributing to your family and to your community as well as being challenged and enjoying your time at work.

Achieving financial objectives and having fun are important steps towards "winning". Beyond those things, businesses truly "win" when they have contributed to their shareholders, employees and their families, to the community and to society at large.

Let's have some fun and make some money

At Action Instruments, the company I founded, we had a basic theme, "Let’s have some fun and make some money". It's important for businesses to have fun. Some think that this means that making money is not important. All things being equal, it's much more fun work in a business that makes money consistently – it provides the ability do a lot of fun thins things. So, it’s a circular argument – the business that win have fun, and business that have fun tend to be winners. Winning is enjoyable – and it is more enjoyable when you're having fun doing it.

Part of the confusion, I believe, stems from the definition of "fun". I think many people equate fun in business with things that have little or nothing to do with work. And since work is often tedious and a grind it cannot be fun. My definition of "fun" in business is allowing people to have the freedom and responsibility to do what it takes to win. Not working for a task-master boss who doles out predefined tasks, but participating in goal-setting and setting ones own pace – with rewards for exceeding expectations. People are challenged and are allowed to enjoy learning the business and playing the game.

You may be proud of achieving monthly or quarterly objectives – but if everyone in the business is not enjoying it, then chances are they aren't trying hard enough either. When tasks are simply doled out, it may not be challenging for those involved to exceed the expectations. This is often where organization-driven managers become frustrated and begin to rely on micro-management to get employees motivated to work harder.

In my experience, if workers players aren't willing to work hard, then they either don't enjoy their work, or are bored – not challenged enough. I just let them know that my expectation is simply that they always give their best effort. I believe in positive coaching, but I believe you also have to be honest with your players about the effort they are giving. If the goal is effort, then you have to let players know when they are not meeting those expectations. Don't embarrass or belittle the players; let them know that you always expect their best effort.

Realistic Goals and objectives

Winning is a result that can't be guaranteed, but good preparation and effort are things that everyone can achieve.

There’s an important dichotomy with setting winning goals and objectives. Goals may be unrealistic or wishful thinking, which simply sets. On the other hand, in order to “win” the goal may be set too low which in itself is losing – because if the goal is get low enough to assure winning, then achieving the goal is NOT winning. Indeed, is it better to say set a growth target of 10% and achieve it, as opposed to setting a “stretch target” of 20% and failing to meet it, but achieving 15%.

If winning is the only goal, the pressure to perform can be very intense and many fail to perform when under extreme pressure situations. Often too, only the top members of the team have direct incentives to achieve results, and they drive the lower level employees who have no direct incentives – which is unfair. So, it's important to get all employees on the team to win.

Freedom to Fail

What gives the best chance of success? The team must give great effort, and must not be afraid to fail, either individually or as a team. This is easier said than done – people must play with confidence because they aren't afraid of what will happen if they don't win. Fear of failure is a major reason why many companies fail in critical situations – especially when headed up by an Organizational leader, or a Warrior.

They key of gamesmanship is that the best people fail on a regular basis and what makes them special is their ability to learn from the failure and try to improve. Baseball pitcher Greg Maddux says: "Failure is the best teacher in the world; you get to learn from what happens – both good and bad – in real-live situations."

Is winning important? Yes, it's important. Everyone knows the score – they get disappointed when they lose and they're happy when they win. They see greater rewards and motivation when the company performs well, and success breeds success. The key is to make goals achievable and tied to effort, not just results. A focus on creating a positive and productive business environment will help players to flourish, and the wins will come.

Passion for Excellence

Whatever the concept of winning, it needs to serve the well-being of your enterprise. It must include a process of continual self-improvement. It's about pride in the work, knowing that they’ve pushed themselves to doing the best they can do.

There's more to performance than just winning. From an individual point of view, having genuine interest and excitement in doing what it takes to achieve those goals is as important as actually achieving them.

It's important not only to have a clear understanding of the organization's objectives, but also an intense passion for performance. Basketball coach Phil Jackson said, "Winning is important, but what brings real joy is being fully engaged."

Or, to quote Vince Lombardi again, "If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you should be fired with enthusiasm."

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