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4 Business Lessons from NASCAR

You're the driver, the car's your business--now learn how to finish first.

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racing provides a good model for --you're the driver, the car is your business. It takes a lot to build and keep that car running, and even more to put it into the winner's slot.

We don't succeed in business by beating the competition. Unlike racers, businesses win by serving. It's crucial to keep your focus on serving your customers and improving your business.
Still, there are several good lessons to be learned from the NASCAR race track--especially in tough economic times, when the difference between going forward and going under is that extra edge:

  1. Appreciate the differences. Admire what each team member and vendor has to offer. Your business wins when the team does every job right. The engine, transmission, electrical system, chassis and aerodynamics all figure into a great race car. Dozens of people build several for every driver. At the race, the pit crew is there to keep the car running. The shop focuses on excellence, while the pit crew focuses on speed.

    The lesson: Take care of all parts of your business. Hire team members who focus on their job--then you're ready to race!

    Thank your team and your suppliers. Be specific. Tell them that what they do well helps your business. Make your staff feel good about contributing to the overall cause. Then, when an employee does something wrong, you can steer them back in the right direction.
  2. Drive your business. I know one highly successful businessman who took too much time off having fun--and lost everything. Instead, be like Roger Penske, the most successful businessman in racing--he sits in with the pit crew during the race.

    Talk to everyone on your team each week and really listen to each one of them. Give your team what they need to succeed--after all, 94 percent of all workplace errors are caused by management. That means that 19 out of 20 times, when an employee makes a mistake, it's because you didn't set things up right. Is every job well-defined? Is every task assigned? Does every person have the right tools to do the job, and are all those tools working? Can you help your business by training your team?

    The lesson: People naturally enjoy succeeding and contributing. Build a business where everyone knows their part, then keep clearing away barriers so your team can do good work.

    A great NASCAR team owner draws in and pleases corporate sponsors and picks great crew chiefs. In turn, a great crew chief chooses the best crew and works well with everyone. In the same way, you need to go out and find funding, build relationships and then build a great team of managers and workers to support your hard work.
  3. Success is 99 percent preparation . Sure, in the end, it all comes down to the driver. But that's only after 99 percent of the work is done.

    The lesson: Prepare so the sale is easy when the time comes.

    In NASCAR, a bad tire can ruin a driver's day. Of the 43 cars that start a NASCAR race, 30 likely out of the race from the start due to mechanical flaws. It's the same in business. If you run events or deliver projects, one mistake can cause a customer to walk away and not come back.
  4. Pay attention to the details. Staying in business requires more than making money--it requires making more money than we spend. That margin, called net or profit, comes from attention to detail.
    Sometimes, a car makes it around the race track, but just can't win. These days, our businesses keep grinding on, but can't seem to make much money.

    During the race, atmospheric changes require constant tweaking of the aerodynamics at each pit stop, and an error of judgment about where to put the weight can take the car out of contention.

    The lesson: Your business might require tweaking all day long. Are there napkins and ketchup at the condiments counter? Are shelves near the front restocked? Miss a person's favorite item, and they'll buy it somewhere else--and they might not come back.

This column commemorates my late brother, Paul Kemp, former owner of Pique Performance, who provided these details and confirming that NASCAR is a great place to learn , and who was an example of service and kindness in business, family and community.

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