A fantastic study by Deloitte came out recently– it was right after the 2018 Winter Olympics, so maybe it was all the curling, skiing and ice skating I’d been watching – but I couldn’t help but recognize the parallels in the article between structuring a small business for growth and success, and the intensive training required to become a world-class athlete. Speed, agility, adaptability, perseverance, teamwork – they’re words we’d instinctively associate with our favorite sports. But what can they teach us about scaling our businesses?
According to the results of Deloitte’s study and trends we’ve been observing with hundreds of our clients at Worldwide101, it seems they actually may have everything to do with growing our businesses and creating a model that’s sustainable through the future. Every business owner knows the way we work is changing, so how do we make sure that change doesn’t outgrow us? It’s possible that we can pull some really great tips from the athletes we all admire.
Here are three important lessons I think any small business can pull from athletic training and apply to scaling a business:
No matter what the sport, an athlete’s speed is usually an essential component when it comes to performance. In football, the receiver has to be faster than his defensive counterpart, and even in (a new favorite for me) curling, the speed at which your teammate sweeps his or her brush has a big effect on where your curling stone ends up.
A focus on speed of delivery in today’s “instant everything” world, is vital for growing a business, too, to meet customers’ expectations. Here’s how Deloitte put it that really spoke to me: “Embrace the speed of change: Think carefully about the ways in which ‘digital’ demands the considerably slower traditional operating model to be speeded up. Understand how strategy, connectedness, customers, and talent pools are all changing as part of the digital transformation.”
Many traditional business practices aren’t designed to handle the speed of today’s workplace. That just wasn’t the focus at the time they were instituted. But then along came the internet, and then smartphones, and everything changed. As business owners, we can embrace this “new pace” by identifying opportunities to help us stay ahead, and let go of the idea that ‘the way it’s always been’ is how it’s going to stay.
Take hiring as an example. Traditionally, when a small company makes the decision to hire someone, it’s because the need is already past-due and a frantic search ensues. It begins with writing a job description, rewriting it, posting it to job sites, sorting through hundreds or thousands of resumes, going through weeks of interviews, and finally hiring someone, only to have to spend more time getting them up-to-speed and finalizing the administrative burdens of payroll, state filing etc. Or perhaps, as is increasingly common, the thought of doing all this induces hiring paralysis!
If you own a small business, you know these types of administrative time-suck can really sink the ship. It makes total sense to start thinking about adapting to a new way of doing things. One way to that, is by hiring people indirectly, at least initially, via a PEO like Justworks, or similar, another is working with a solution that offers help identifying the best people without the time drag or the administrative burden of recruiting.
For positions that can be performed remotely — think admin, marketing, project management, accounting etc, you can get an experienced team member for your business for the exact time you need simply by paying a monthly subscription (disclaimer that’s what Worldwide101 does). Utilizing services like this, specifically designed to help small business, is a great antidote to the speed demanded of today’s workplaces — in fact it can give you an edge over larger less agile competitors.
Talking of agility, it’s arguably as important to any athlete as speed. Speed without agility might get us somewhere fast, but it won’t get us very far before we’re tackled, tripped, or shut down.
In the same way, the ability to change direction quickly is crucial for small businesses. Most small businesses don’t need (or want) to be locked into a full-time, or even part-time employee in every department. For example, maybe you only need a project manager 40 hours a month, or an administrative assistant 60 hours a month. If you’re in that position, a flexible solution that allows you to add or remove resources as you need them, makes the most sense.
These flexible, fractional hiring solutions are a relatively new concept in a business world so used to direct employment but they are gaining ground for good reason. Studies have shown that today’s workers crave flexibility and work/life balance. They crave more control over their work and over their schedule. Somehow, the dialogue around this shift became company vs. employee, but what it really should be, is: what’s good for the employee, is now great for the company. Because this revolution has allowed companies the chance to tap into highly-skilled and talented resources on a remote and flexible basis – for as much time as they need, and cheaper too without the cost of office space, computer equipment, and other ‘in-house’ expenses.. A total win-win.
Teamwork is the pinnacle of any successful sports team. As the Deloitte article points out, team structures are going to be the most pivotal adaptation for today’s new companies when it comes to scaling effectively. “Chains of Command” and “Organizational Ladders” slow down innovation and are being broken down to allow for more free-flowing and effective ideas and communication. My favorite quote to illustrate this point is a famous one from Steve Jobs you may have heard: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
The Deloitte article also highlights the effect technology has had on teamwork – new communication channels like Workplace, Slack, Basecamp make instant communication available to everyone in the company — it’s the secret to a well oiled and highly effective team.
So bringing all of this information on the evolution of work into play, imagine this: you’re the coach of a major-league team. Every single player on your team has has been chosen with speed and agility as top priorities, they’re all A+ players with a proven track-record and drive to help you succeed. Your team works together flawlessly, making exceptional teamwork a high-priority and never faltering in that goal. There’s no way anyone could stop you, right?
As business leaders, we are these coaches. If we build our team based on these principles, stick to them, and really live them out, there’s no we can lose.