March Madness

3 Lessons All Businesses Can Take Away From March Madness

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No, I’m not joining the next cast of Dancing with the Stars, but I am ready for the “big dance,” nonetheless -- otherwise known as March Madness. This is an interesting time of the year. Much of America seems to become paralyzed with not just who will win the big prize, but who'll be the Cinderella team that gets its day in the sun. With everyone busy filling in those brackets, estimates say that employers could lose up to $1.9 billion in wages as a result of the more than 60 million Americans paying such close attention to their March Madness predictions.

Related: Do You Have the Body Language of a Champion?

That’s certainly a lot of money. But not all is lost. A positive side still exists to all of this that can benefit us all. In fact, businesses are our very own "basketball teams" and there’s quite a lot we can learn from March Madness. Here are those lessons:

1. Losing leads to winning.

To all of us who'll be watching those 64 teams vye to be number one in college basketball, feeling down at halftime can be a bit demoralizing. No one ever likes to be on the losing side of things, but being behind at halftime doesn’t necessarily spell doom. For some teams, it’s a big motivator to work harder and become a more cohesive unit. Even NBA superstar LeBron James becomes a better shooter (8 percent) when his team is down late in the game.

In business, we’ve left the doldrums of Q1 behind and should be full steam ahead into Q2 and beyond. What if your team is a little behind? That’s okay, within reason. It’s better to have a goal to chase than be chased by a mob. So, if you want to motivate your team, don’t provide feedback where people stand relative to everyone else (10th percentile or 20th out of 100, etc.).

That type of feedback discourages poor performers and gives strong performers a feeling that they can coast through. What you should do is shrink your reference group by comparing your people to others slightly ahead of them, regardless of how well your group is performing. By encouraging your employees to look ahead rather than behind is a classic lesson in how "losing" can lead to "winning."

2. Rivalries can be both good and bad.

Yes, rivalries are both! What’s sports, after all, without rivalries? UNC vs. Duke, Kentucky vs. Louisville or Kansas vs. Kansas State are some of the big ones that are present, year in and year out. As a result, these rivalries stoke the fires for the fans and helps put butts in the seats, which is certainly good for business.

But, rivalries can also stoke some fires you might have a hard time putting out, if you’re not careful. If you’re going to light a fire, make sure it doesn’t turn into a blazing inferno you won’t be able to control.   

Having a friendly rivalry with a co-worker can be a big motivator for some. I happen to be a big fan of a little friendly competition, but beware. It can also have an adverse effect on your company or office. Not everyone likes or enjoys competition. Not to mention that rivalries can increase unsportsmanlike behavior. While rivalries motivate some to work harder, it can also drive people to cheat, cut corners or do everything they can to win, or at least get ahead of their competition.

So, bear in mind that everyone needs a rivalry, as long as it's a healthy one. The bigger it is, the bigger people will perceive you, too.

Related: In Basketball and Business, What Separates Winners and Losers?

3. 'Success' is something to be wary of.

Everyone wants to achieve a modicum of success in their lives. But too much success too soon can change things. It can make you feel over-confident, and it might make you take unnecessary risks you wouldn’t have taken otherwise; or else you may start playing it too safe, from fear of taking any risk.

It’s the same with basketball -- almost. If you’re a team down by nine points, with less than five minutes to go, you may start shooting 3’s like they’re running out of style. Teams in this situation go into full panic mode, taking ill-advised shots and making a terrible shot selection.

Other, more disciplined, teams think long-term and start cutting the deficit little by little. They take high-percentage shots, play a good defense and stick to the game plan. That discipline usually catapults the team to victory.

Success will come, but you must resist panicking if at the first sign of trouble you start changing the game plan and taking bad shots. Being reactionary might seem like a good idea, initially, but you must trust what got you there in the first place. Your preparation and the fire that allowed you to be successful will carry you through the tough moments. You must trust that; otherwise, you’ll start jacking-up shots that, in the end, will make you look like a chump, rather than a champ.

So, those are three distinct lessons your business can learn from March Madness. Here are a few other sports-related lessons all entrepreneurs should keep in mind:

  • Know your competition. If your team is to reach the Final Four, or even a championship game, you have to know the opposing team almost as well as you know your own. Heck, you might need to know the opposition better than you know yourself.

In business, you’re always in competition with someone else, or a bunch of someones. If your business models are similar, you must figure out what sets you apart from your opponent. What’s that one thing your business can do better? For example, if your pricing is similar, but your customer service is better, there’s your advantage. Lead with that.

  • There’s no “I” in 'team.' In any business, just as in team sports, teamwork is one of the most important components for your success, if not the most important. It doesn’t matter what position you play or what your title is, each of you has a role to play and should do that to the best of your ability. No matter how good you are, one person cannot win, or lose, the game himself (or herself).
  • One and done. In basketball, there’s just one chance to win the game. The same goes for business. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Every new client and every opportunity should be seen as a “one and done.” If you don’t wow them the first time around, someone else might.
  • Run the play that’s called. Normally, you’ll see a team’s point guard look to the coach for the next play and then begin to execute it. If one player decides to go rogue, however, the play will break down. Sometimes that works, but more often than not, it spells disaster. In a company, the team members who have sufficient faith in their team (and leaders) to execute the play called reap the benefits. Similarly, your team must be on the same page; however, that’s not to say that team members can’t improvise if the play breaks down. The play remains the same, but instead of executing with "Plan A," your team executes with "Plan B."
  • Practice makes perfect. The teams that go to the dance in March have been practicing for months. They know the playbook by heart and are able to execute each play flawlessly. Practice fosters success because the teams are preparing the right way. They're not cutting corners or taking shortcuts.

You should do the same with your business. Whether in business or basketball, the team that’s the last one standing is the one that puts in the time and effort. Players have practiced their craft, scouted the competition, seized the opportunity, worked as a cohesive unit to execute every play and been able to adjust once the game has started.

Related: Fun Ways Brands Are Betting on March Madness

It’s up to you whether your team gets to cut down the nets in the end, or ends up with a busted bracket.