February 15, 2011
Win-win is an often used phase in business, which rarely applies in sport, which is typically win-lose. Sport is the ultimate environment for competitive strategy.
However even with this significant difference, winning in sport can be compared to winning in business, both are very results focused, whether it’s about points scored or profit, seconds on the clock or the right product. So let’s explore the definition of business strategy within a sporting environment and the process of sporting strategy within the business context.
From a business perspective strategy Porter (1996) suggests ‘competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value’. Prahald and Hamel (1990) propose ‘core competencies should be difficult to imitate’ which is congruent with Porter’s idea of strategic differentiation. Does strategic differentiation apply in the sporting context?
Business examples of performing activities differently from rivals might include that of the low cost, no frills, airlines, who have successfully differentiated themselves from scheduled carriers, or Waitrose who combine the convenience of a supermarket with the quality, expertise and service of a specialist shop. From a sporting perspective strategic examples of using differences in order to outperform rivals might include; creating a very difficult new movement in an ice dance routine, the unique mix of skills selection that will give a rugby team best advantage, or the rower with outstanding lung capacity
From a sport psychology perspective Butler (2000) suggests ‘strategy is a blueprint of desired action which takes account of exceptional factors (cf. differences) and anticipated possibilities.’ Butler adds that ‘A strategy should therefore facilitate and guide performance to meet the demands of each specific performance’. Could these statements be applied in a business context?
The desired actions Butler refers to break down into three stages, and I propose that these stages can be transferred into the business environment.
Strategy Stage 1 – pre-competition planning – determining what needs to be achieved prior to performance to facilitate optimum performance. The following might be applicable at this stage to both business and sporting strategy; making best use of available resources (e.g. facilities, support team, equipment cf. competencies, technology, finances, etc), physical (fitness, strength, stamina cf. environment, health, safety), mental (confidence, performing under pressure, communication cf. working under pressure, confidence, interpersonal skills), deadlines, logistics (e.g. transport, location, etc) and weighing up the pros and cons of the various options, and ‘what if’ scenarios.
Strategy stage 2 – the competition plan – how you are going to win the day? In order to make best decisions with regards to opportunities, risks and tactics (cf. managing opportunities and risks (Drucker, 1989)) will require analysis of team and opponents strengths and weaknesses (cf. SWOT analysis), what are your differentiators (e.g. speed, strength, skill), what are the core competencies (e.g. defence, mental toughness, communication); what are the conditions and current parameters of play (cf. market conditions, legislation, codes of conduct).
Strategy stage 3 – post competition analysis – exploration of what went well, not so well and what to do differently. The strategic review enabling informed decisions around what activities, competencies, skills, behaviours, etc. need to be addressed so as to raise the performance level. What should be continued? Which ones are not so effective? How to be more effective? What needs to change?
I propose that this sporting strategy process is equally applicable in a business context and is consistent with Porters (1996) suggestion that strategy involves creating best fit for company activities (e.g. having the right players in the right position for their skills and competencies), trade-offs (e.g. physical advantage of younger vs. skills expertise) and informed choices which are as much about what not to do as about what to do (e.g. whether or not to play a wild card at a world championship such as a young inexperienced player)
Whether they are gold medal winners or world record breakers, top sports performers and teams like highly successful businesses discover and maximise the potential of their differentiators. Therefore whether developing strategy in sport or business the questions are likely to be similar, for example ‘what would you do differently if you were a new entrant to the market? Or, What would you do differently as a new entrant to the football premiership or America’s Cup?
Butler, R. J. (2000) Sport Psychology in Action, Arnold, London
Drucker P.F. (1989) Managing for Results, Heinemann Professional
Porter, M.E. (1996) What is Strategy, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec
Prahald C.K.& Hamel G. (1990) The Core Competence of the Corporation, Harvard Business Review, May-June