We make comparisons between business and sports all the time. We talk about hitting a home run, taking more shots, playing defense. But one of the challenges of business, compared to sports, is the rarity of the unadulterated victory. Whether it’s a friendly pick up game to a state title to the Olympics, winning a competition offers something pure and simple. A true win. Yes, the victory may be temporary – next round, next game, next season – but it’s still very real, very tangible.
In business, there’s no agreed upon metric for winning. Market share? Revenue? Profitability? Customer satisfaction? Return on capital? You could make a case for any one of those, and there’s also no time frame for when to “call it”. We have to manufacture those win opportunities.
Making wins feel real
In technology, the launch date is a big opportunity to claim a victory. For startups, it’s the official launch on TechCrunch (or more likely today, ProductHunt). On a bigger scale, it’s the 2007-12 Apple keynotes, where the announcement is the key moment victory. Of course, announcements and launches can be flops so there is also risk there.
For enterprise companies, it might be a major deal. At Percolate, our VP of Sales leads a “clap it up” session when a new client signs on or renews. I remember interviewing for a job at Tesla in 2010 in sales and was told that every time someone sold a car, a gong was rung through out the entire office, which was basically a warehouse full of tables, computers and phones. Of course that celebration feels good for the sales person, but the key is to make it feel like a win for the entire company.
The Magic of Momentum
This is a video of my parallel bar routine from Day 1 of NCAA championships, at home at Stanford in 2008. You can see how fired up I was after sticking that landing.
Victory is contagious. I was the first guy up on the first event, and that means I had the responsibility of setting the tone for the entire team. The energy from that performance got everyone excited.
Repeated victories create momentum and momentum is everything, especially in a startup. For engineers, knowing that their company deploys new code multiple times a day is a powerful thing – it tells them that their work will have immediate impact, and they won’t see their code languish and waste away until the next monthly or, gasp, quarterly update. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile puts it this way:
“All the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work”.
Amabile is also an advisor for my friend Walter Chen’s company iDoneThis, a tool that asks you to report what you got done each day – partly as a tracking and accountability tool, but partly as a way to visualize your progress over time. We do this at Percolate with a similar email system around MIT’s (most important tasks).
James, cofounder of Percolate, often tells us at the marketing team that the rest of the company needs to see and feel the impact of our work on a regular basis. Every team is responsible for shipping – product, sales, client services – but marketing, as experts on messaging and distribution, is especially positioned to make everyone in the organization feel the results of that forward progress. When you have enterprise software that you can’t just get a free trial account for, marketing (our website, out blog, our social channels, our events, our reports) become the most visible manifestations of our company – to clients, to prospects, to partners, to prospective employees.
Winning is worth it
I was part of the Stanford Men’s Gymnastics team that won an NCAA championship in 2009. It was an unbelievable experience and for me, the crowning achievement of my 16 year career in gymnastics. When I look at the picture of us on the podium, i see 18 guys who are on fire and so proud of their team effort.
Let’s find ways to create these moments of victory in business as well.