Monday, January 28, 2013

Going for it

In baseball, there's a saying, "You can't hit a five run homer."  It's an admonition to players that a deficit has to be overcome one batter at a time, and to focus in the moment, rather than project forward.  Contribute your part; let the next guy do his.  Some call it "small ball." Or deride it as incrementalism. One of the most memorable moments in American sports was built on such small steps. (Relax, Red Sox Nation, you had your moment.)

The debate over "big play" versus "march down the field" has raged for and out of sporting arenas.  Think tortoise v. hare, a fable from Aesop and ancient Greece.

It's true that sluggers are traditionally more revered by fans and big-armed quarterbacks capture more imagination than a great cover corner back.  We have home run derbies at the All Star game, not doubles up the gap contests.

But do the bombers win more?  Do they contribute more to success than well-rounded excellence?  Not according to some.  The book and film Moneyball, which is about management as much as it is about baseball, is a recent contributor to this debate.  In the world of big business, the go-for-broke and grind-it-out camps each have visible success stories.

For small businesses, the issue is more complicated, and personal.  Going for broke can have a literal meaning for owner-run enterprises.  Big risks may have big rewards, but more often than not, the risks do not pay off:  the failure rate for small businesses is very high.  There are no bailouts or golden parachutes for small business owners who fail.

When thinking big, break it down into small, executable steps. Focus on identifying the resources needed to achieve each step, put them in place, assign responsibilities and manage the process. 

For example:  The goal for a professional service business is $500,000 in new billings this year (a 50% growth in fees generated in 2012.)  How are they attacking this gargantuan goal?
  • Focus:  The firm has developed a target list and a profile of potential clients by practice area, industry, size and match with existing expertise (and successes.)
  • Small bites: Based on the average account size, that revenue goal equals eight new accounts or assignments, or one each 90 days, on average. Their plan maps out in detail the activities and timeline needed to move each initiative forward.
  • Execution:  A marketing plan has been developed to build visibility in the target markets and organizations, and credibility with and decision-makers and third-party influencers.
  • Accountability: Each senior staff member is tasked with a target and responsible for executing the plan in that market segment.
Each team member knows their job and is focused on their assignment.  As each succeeds, they all do.  Points are put on the board, the deficit is closed, then erased.  Game over.  Win.

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