Are You Playing to Win?

These four strategies can help an entrepreneur and the team pull out all the stops.

learn more about Stacey Alcorn

By Stacey Alcorn

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There are two types of businesses in the world -- those playing to win (think Zappos, Starbucks and Apple) and those playing so as not to lose.

Businesses that are playing to win are aggressive marketers, relentless recruiters and proactive strategists while those playing simply not to lose are reactive in their marketing, talent recruiting and overall strategy. Playing to win is about growth. Playing not to lose is about survival. If you want to build a colossal business, play to win.

Here are four ways to grow a business by playing to win:

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1. Face change boldly.

Some companies deal well with change. That's not to say they love change. Who does? If your business is playing to win, adapt quickly to the changing demands of customers. A decade ago it would have been difficult to imagine a McDonald's menu offering the salad choices of today or a Happy Meal with options for apple slices and yogurt snacks instead of fries. McDonald's remains a player that's out to win because as the health consciousness of customers has changed so too has its menu.

2. Innovate.

The companies that play so as to not lose are focusing primarily on their competition. But companies that are playing to win also focus on the "what's next" in their business. Innovators are busy finding the latest, greatest and yet unthought of tool to make their business better. Who would have thought a decade ago that phones today would do so much, providing a camera, a music library and a portable computer? That's apparently exactly what Apple was thinking about while competitors were focusing on how to outdo one another in pricing plans and texting capabilities.

Related: 9 Steps to Building and Coaching a Killer Team

3. Grow.

Companies that play to win are in a constant battle to increase their market share and presence, profits and opportunities. These organizations always compare their results to their last goals. The focus on outperforming their own records is a recipe for epic growth.

Empire-sized companies keep a mindful eye on the competition while focusing on outperforming their own past results. Constant growth is virtually impossible to maintain, but companies that are in it to win make sure that their growth trend line is moving north. Starbucks, for example, has outlined ambitious growth goals.

4. Find motivated talent.

Businesses that are primed to win have an unyielding focus on recruiting talent. I visited Zappos two years ago and admired its strategy for adding talent.

After a new hire has participated in a trial period at Zappos, he or she is offered a bonus to leave. The mind-set of the Zappos leadership team is such that if money appeals to someone more than the opportunity to work for the firm, then the job would not be a good fit. Companies that are playing to win recognize that success is built from collaboration between hardworking staffers and so a strategy for talent acquisition and employee de-selection is effective.

Related: If You Want to Win, Stop Focusing on Winning

Stacey Alcorn

Author and Entrepreneur

Stacey Alcorn is CEO of Boston-based Laer Realty Partners.  She owns and operates several businesses in the Boston area including a consulting firm, a law firm and a fashion line. She is the author of REACH! -- Dream, Stretch, Achieve, Influence.

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