Preparation, Practice and Execution: Business Lessons From Super Bowl LIV
The Covid-19 pandemic may wreak havoc on the 2020-2021 NFL season, causing many football fans who need a football fix to look back at the Kansas City Chiefs’ come-from-behind Super Bowl LIV victory. It certainly was one to remember. What’s interesting to business leaders is that it provides a model for victory in business, as well in sports and in life.
Every CEO knows that today’s million-dollar contract was won because of years of sweat, preparation, and investment when nobody was looking. Super Bowl LIV wasn’t won on Feb. 2, 2020. It was won over months and years because the team took the three steps necessary to build any successful organization: 1) preparation; 2) practice; 3) execution.
For example, Tyreek Hill’s 44-yard catch was a pivotal moment in the game. But if the team had just developed processes to get to the catch, they would have foundered – and we’d be writing about the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Andy Reid knew what CEOs know: that the big catch (or contract) is just an opportunity upon which a team (or business) must capitalize.
Counter-intuitively, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory began when they chose to win fewer games in the 2018 season. The Chiefs used that season to get the right people in place, prepare their individual and team development strategy, and look down the multi-year road to success.
The successful company continually identifies and tackles many opportunities simultaneously. One big strength is not enough to overcome several smaller deficiencies. If quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ terrific passes were met by fumbling receivers, the Chiefs would have been out in the first round of the playoffs – just ask Tom Brady. Running backs aren’t great if they don’t have a line to create holes, and receivers can’t catch bad throws.
Let’s look at a homebuilder whose Super Bowl is crafting luxury homes for the rich and powerful on Martha’s Vineyard. This builder is likely to start small while they perfect their processes. He or she thoughtfully expands by hiring staff, investing in technologies, and seeking partnerships local specialists.
Imagine the freshly minted CPA. He or she starts as a solo practitioner, doggedly pursuing continuing education and integrating massive technology improvements into the practice. As the business grows, the CPA adds new staff to handle the increased workload. Over time, the leader’s education, technology, and savvy use of vendors and staff builds their reputation as the CPA of choice for big public companies whose every dollar is subject to the IRS microscope.
The principles are the same for the Chiefs, the accountant, and the builder. Before the first football was thrown and the first client was contacted, these “teams” had to ask:
· How well-defined are their goals and processes?
· Do they have the right people in the right seats?
· Are short-term decisions moving the ball towards the end zone?
A quarterback is only great if he can get the ball to the receiver and the receiver can catch the ball. This requires turning individual contributors into a cohesive unit through two types of practice: 1) achieving the highest level of individual skills and 2) simulating game-day conditions.
Practice under simulated game-day conditions is necessary for all members of the team. Experienced players and coaches need to be kept sharp and up-to-date, new players and coaches need to get up to speed, and promoted team members need to be comfortable in the new job.
Football players can run two-minute and red zone drills, and the business owner can game out likely market and competition outcomes. The builder can learn to delegate to foremen and lay out plans in case a client doesn’t pay, or interest rates rise. Vendors and staff need to be paid even if the boss is not -- and how a leader prepares for these and other scenarios will reveal a great deal about their maturation as an executive and their dedication to the team.
The CPA’s challenges will be different but no less important. An IRS audit or a hostile buyout of a client could turn a normal client into one requiring a high level of delicate attention. In these cases, and many others, the CPA will be expected to perform at his or her highest level without panicking. Practicing and preparing for these scenarios ensures the CPA will respond calmly and quickly even if the client panics.
Coach Reid used preparation and practice to ensure execution under pressure by Tyreek Hill and Patrick Mahomes. They worked in fine-tuned closeness with their 51 teammates during 23 total games -- including coming from behind in all three of their playoff games. They were prepared with the right strategy and team, and they had practiced for both skill and pressure to execute over and over. And while one of the game’s biggest plays was 44 yards long, the Chiefs averaged just 5.3 yards per play -- 19% less than the 49ers’ 6.5 yards per play, according to the statistical website Pro Football Reference. Reid and his team knew that victory came small plays which create opportunities for big plays.
One of the advantages of small and mid-size companies is their ability to replicate Reid’s in-game decision-making. They can quickly pivot to respond to changing circumstances. The home builder may see that fewer homes are being built during an economic slowdown and pivot to current customers’ renovation, upgrades, and additions. The CPA may have to quickly learn how to help a client develop a financial strategy which includes an unexpected $250,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Successful executives can win their own Super Bowl. They can be their own Coach Reid by being prepared with the right team and processes, practicing to ensure that the sum of preparation is stronger than each component on its own, and then executing in the moment.
We may not be able to watch a Super Bowl in 2021, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But all business owners can appreciate and replicate how the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV.