Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Business Lessons to Cross the Boundary: Part 5

This is the last piece in the series of blogs on sports management coming from Ishan Institute of Management & Technology, one of the best MBA colleges in Delhi NCR. It is too demanding to cover all aspects of sports management in blogs and yet learning business lessons from cricket can pave the way for some serious academic research on sports in business management. In this piece the academic team tries to offer a concluding comment on the facets of business challenges that are touched upon by cricket. We also look for possible solutions from cricket.

Champion managers and players, champion teams and corporate enterprises believe in winning and have scant respect for the theory of the second best. This mindset in its extremes can lead to exactly the worst thing-losing. Not talking of losing and driving failure under the carpet leads to the typical sub-continent mindset where cricketers and managers who fail are treated as social outcastes. At airports, coffee shops, hotels and at events cricketers who have been dropped are referred to as discards and the term can inflict a lot of damage to the morale of the concerned person. Managers who are terminated on account of failures also go through this. At the heart of the biggest challenge for business and sport is to deal with the burden of winning and the fear of failure.

The Burden of Winning
When market leaders have a cake walk and get accustomed to winning in the market with no or little effort, they stick to the formula that has got them there in that position in the first place. This gets reflected in little or no product and process innovation, carrying on with daddy’s brands even if they are not fetching any returns, sticking to a set team that has got too used to thinking and working in a stereotyped way. With little or no effort to paddle the cycle, the cycle carries itself forward on momentum. Momentum is always short lived. Great teams and corporations have failed because of the burden of winning.

Going into competitive sport like cricket and also in business with the preconceived notion that we just need to show up on the field with no preparation and walk down any competition is a recipe for disaster. May great corporations do want to change anything of the winning formula because they may not know the exact element of the winning formula that is leading them to victory. Hence there is this temptation to not tinker around with a set team, set product portfolio, set templates for product development, set protocol for communication, set procedures, set thumb rules for decision making, etc. The burden of winning brings with itself an inertia that weighs down on the appetite to innovate, inspire and change. There is a risk in changing when companies and teams do not know what needs to be changed. The lesson is that every victory needs as much analysis as does a defeat. When the revenue streams are flowing, then is the time to analyze. When the going gets tough it is time to act, not sit back and analyze.

Fear of Failure
The fear of failure is not a mindset that comes with failure itself. It is an imaginary situation that looms large in hindsight that forces teams and players to look backwards when they should be only looking forward. A common example of this in cricket is when a batsman attempts to but ultimately does not want to play a ball bowled in the corridor of uncertainty. With the batsman in two minds whether to leave the ball or play it, he goes with the middle path of nudging at the ball. As the ball kisses the thick edge of the bat, it flies into the hands of the fields standing in the slip cordon. In many such cases of being “edged out”, a post mortem analysis of the video reveals that the batsman has looked back immediately after he has edged the ball and even before the catch has been taken.

When a batsman is much concerned about slip fielders standing behind him, he focuses on what lies behind him, not on what is ahead of him. The head leans towards the off stump and being the heaviest part of the body, drags the back, shoulders and feet away from the line of delivery and thus an edge is produced. When managers are concerned about what is going on behind their back and how colleagues and competitors may be plotting his downfall behind them, the downfall inevitably happens as a self fulfilling prophecy. 
In 1999, during a test match between India and Pakistan, Sachin Tendulkar had played a gem of an innings with great back pain to take his team to a winning position. With very few runs to be knocked off, Sachin after a long innings got out. Pakistan went on to win the match. When asked later about how India had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the captain of Pakistan Wasim Akram had said that he knew that if Sachin had got out with even 3 runs to win, India would lose the match in the dressing room itself! Point to be noted your honour!

Learning While Losing
In post match conferences it is common for captains to refer to every victory as an achievement and every defeat as a lesson or a journey on the learning curve.  Every defeat brings a loss of face and thus leaves the captain at a loss of words. Hence the reference to a defeat being a part of the learning curve in most cases is a lip service paid to the concept of learning while losing.

Corporations and teams that learn from losses are those that stay safe. A conservative risk appetite that is based on rationale must consider the value of learning while losing. The climate that prevails in the dressing room, the mentoring from senior players and the feedback of the coach matter a lot in bring a player or a team back from the brink of a loss. The dressing room climate has to add value and create confidence in the team and its players. Many great teams loss matches in the dressing room itself.

Business and cricket are both great levellers. Each victory is a milestone and a new high. Each defeat teaches humility and humbles the greatest teams and individuals. Top PGDM colleges in Delhi teach a lot of case studies and corporate sector and cricket are never short of exemplary achievers who have touched greatness. At Ishan Institute of Management & Technology, one of the top PGDM colleges in Delhi NCR, we would like to serve a unique footnote to this concluding piece.

Of all the animals that rule in the jungle the lion and the tiger are revered by many. Yet both tigers and lions despite being one man armies of their territories are on the verge of being extinct. The go alone approach does not work in the jungle, corporate sector or in cricket. Wolves are probably the most professionally groomed animals because they can hunt alone but choose to hunt in packs: “TEAM: together everybody achieves more”. As the British author Rudyard Kipling had once said:

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”