In 2014, I wrote a blog post about baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams and the famous “heat map” he developed to guide his decisions about which pitches to swing at. In that post, I explained that Ted became the greatest hitter of all time by developing a system to determine which pitches he had a better than average chance of hitting (what I call a “fat pitch”). He studied his past at bats and his swing style, and then used the data to craft a strategy he followed religiously when he was at the plate.
That first post focused on how to identify your company’s “fat pitch.” Part two is about the lessons we can learn from Ted’s discipline at the plate.
Ted’s heat map is not enough to explain why he became the greatest hitter of all time. There are two very critical elements to his success. First, he had a really clear strategy which he defined by his “heat map.” Second, he exercised an incredible level of discipline in only swinging at those pitches where he had the best chance for a hit. His strategy would have been worthless if he did not apply strict discipline in following it.
The same holds true for most businesses I work with. The most successful companies have developed a crystal clear strategy on what markets, customers, products, and opportunities they will chase. They exercise the discipline to say NO to opportunities that don’t fit their strategy.
Truly, swinging at every pitch that comes along is a recipe for disaster in a business. Yet, so many of us get nervous about the idea of walking away from an opportunity, even when we intuitively know it’s not the right fit for the business. The reason saying no is so hard is that most owners/entrepreneurs are possibility thinkers. Their nature is to be opportunistic; they see the glass as half full most of the time. So they look for the reasons to chase opportunities rather than not and fear missing out on a good opportunity. While these are great attributes, trying to be “all things to all people” can destroy a business’s performance. An unfocused approach usually leads to lower profits and higher costs as activity increases without corresponding margins.
The companies I work with that have the discipline to say no generally have two common characteristics: the tone is set at the top by the CEO and they have incentives in place that reward the right behaviors.
First, all eyes in a company are on the CEO. If your company’s leadership is focused only on sales at all costs as opposed to the “right” sales, or volume instead of margins, then you can expect the rest of the team to follow your lead. If the CEO does not exercise discipline, how can you expect the employees to do so?
Second, a company’s incentive system can either reinforce or detract from a disciplined strategy. Employees generally act out of self-interest; it’s human nature. They respond to incentives, so it may not be a bad idea to reevaluate your incentive programs to make sure they are consistent with your strategy and are prompting the right behaviors.
The discipline to say no to opportunities is hard to develop, but it’s well worth it. Ted was able to force that discipline on himself and he became the greatest hitter of all time. How are you going to increase your company’s batting average?
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