“When in doubt, get the Sports analogy handbook out”

10th March 2021

 

 

It’s been a long-term project of ours here at Rokker to remove the ‘consultancy speak’ from our day-to-day activities. This is sometimes easy (no one really needs to use the words ‘over-indexed’) and sometimes hard. For example, we are likely to use ‘sub-optimal’ when we mean something is a bit crap, so we don’t offend anyone.

 

The biggest form of go-to consultancy-speak by far and away though is the Analogy. We, like all good service providers, LOVE a good analogy. My particular favourite from many businesses ago was when a colleague described to a fairly grumpy client that ‘their website, not unlike the Death Star, was complete but not fully operational…” a total classic and went down like a pint of cold sick, but it still makes me smile.

 

Having said this, sometimes a good analogy does help simplify complex ideas (as does a good drawing in my experience) and in this case Sports is a familiar friend. We work with a whole range of clients, from Gaming and Finance to Media and Digital Healthcare and these can get really really complex really really quickly. It’s sometimes useful to rise above the activity and tactical noise of sales, production, operations, people, finance, brand, and communication etc…and work on a few key principles that help drive the company forward and impact transformation in a number of real-world ways that the whole team can understand.

 

In fact, we see the same kind of challenges so often that we apply very simple analogies to these to help align whole teams as to what they could be doing better, and in this case, I am going to use 3 of the very best sports analogies I can think of to help frame this for you:

 

#1. Rugby. Kicking Field Goals

 

I often talk about the 2003 England Rugby World Cup. It was a fantastic, fairly boozy, morning made better by the now infamous last-minute drop-goal by Jonny Wilkinson, just awesome. But looking back at that tournament it was the unprecedented number of penalty field goals that allowed England to move so confidently through the rounds to get to that position in the final. Yes the forwards were unrelenting and made sure the team was in the opposition’s half, and yes, they scored some wonderful tries, but it was the boot of Wilkinson that kept the scoreboard ticking over each match and put it out of reach of the competition. We see this in business all the time – a healthy business is one that is not overly reliant on feast and famine transactions or single large clients (irregular tries) but has a combination of consistent wins and well planned and set up tries which really make the difference to the opposition confidence.

 

So, the analogy here is you need a strategy for field goals. What do you have in your product or service arsenal that keeps the scoreboard ticking over and puts you out of sight of the competition?

 

#2. Football. Movement Off the Ball

 

While I look somewhat like a (over the hill) rugby player, I spent a lot of time as a boy and young teenager getting shouted at by the coach of our local football team (come on Norwich Road Rangers!) for not tracking play and not being in ‘triangles’, it forms a big part of my childhood memory bank. The principle of ‘triangles’ in football though is a good one, and effectively means that you should be creating movement off the ball so that someone with the ball has a clear line of sight, and options, for passing the ball up the field. This movement of the ball is what separates good footballers from great ones, and we hear it all the time on TV ‘he/she has got a great football brain’. This means that they can see the plays emerging and put themselves in a position to either pass the ball into space or to receive the ball to the best advantage of the team. While I’m not a Newcastle or Man Utd fan, Alan Shearer and Paul Scoles were geniuses at this…

 

The clear analogy here is that it’s not just the person with the ball that’s important it’s the movement off the ball that makes a winning team. Do you have the right people in place and the right attitude and ‘collective business brain’ to see how the plays are unfolding and how to position yourself individually to make a difference?

 

#3. American Football. Offence and Defence

 

Other than a stint at 14 where I was a big Raiders fan (I think it was mostly because they had a cool logo and so I can say ‘I was there for the first Vegas era’), I haven’t really been a huge NFL fan. But with recent movement in the US sports betting space (which we are doing load of work around) and a great US sports client we have been working with across the Rokker Network for the last 12 months, I have got slightly back into it. I even had a view on the MVP of the Superbowl, which turned out to be entirely wrong! But one of the things I like about the NFL is the strategy, and in particular the simplicity of ‘offence and defence’ – the ability to change the campaign or play based on specific players and playbooks and what is required at that exact moment in the game. We see this all the time in business too. Sometimes our clients are terminally defensive (no innovation, stilted growth and to mix sporting metaphors, protecting the bases), or they can be always on the offense, trying to make huge gains without downside protection, spending vast sums in confident ways and missing some of the basics of good business.

 

The analogy here is you need a great playbook, one which helps you understand the plays for that campaign (in business terms the next quarter, year, and 3 years) and which has a great mix of both offence and defence in all aspects of your business so you can manage your risk, but confidently and assertively ‘move up the field’ in a given market, while keeping an eye on outmanoeuvring the competition. If you don’t have this playbook you run the risk of leaving gaps your competitors can exploit or burning through your resources with an ‘all-in’, ‘always-on’ attack mentality.

 

We could add probably another 8-10 sports analogies if we really thought about it, but maybe that’s one for another day. If you’re thinking that these all sound familiar, but don’t have some of these things in play, then myself and the coaching team… I mean consulting team… would be happy to jump on a call and shout “TRIANGLES” at you while you run around in the rain.