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Posted August 5, 2011 8:52 AM by Brandon Kline

Now that the lockout is officially over, the amount of conversations revolving around football has picked up significantly. Football is something that I enjoy very much and like talking about whenever I get the chance. As a consultant, I also enjoy conversations centered on strategic management and the excitement that comes with each client. Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend about my job and, as most conversations between two, twenty-four year old males do, the topic eventually turned to football. In some odd way, this got me thinking about the similarities between football and strategic management. I know, a weird comparison, but stick with me and I think you will see where these thoughts came from.

Football is currently in preseason mode. Preseason is a time for coaches and management to develop a game plan for the season, with the goal of making the playoffs, and the ultimate mission of winning the Super Bowl. During this time, the coaches are developing a strategy that will hopefully enable the team to win football games. It is the coach's job, as well as other leaders on the team, to communicate that strategy and get everyone in the organization on board. Every member of the staff, from the coaches to the players, all the way up to the front office, must believe in that strategy and work together towards accomplishing the organization's goal. As many teams have experienced in the past (including my beloved Redskins), if there is one player who decides to go his own way and not buy in to the team, the results can be disastrous. Much like strategy management, everyone in the organization needs to understand the mission, and come together as a group to work towards that vision.

As part of the preseason strategy, the coaches will develop objectives that need to be met if the team is to be successful. For example, let's pretend that last year the team was ranked last in overall defense. The coach understands that games cannot be won consistently with a defense that gives up the most yards in the NFL. In response, the coach might set a few defensive minded objectives such as "become a top 5 rushing defense," or "hold each opponent to less than 200 passing yards per game." These are objectives that can easily be measured, and will help the team in reaching its goal of winning games and making the playoffs. On the offensive side of the ball, the team might decide they need to have a higher completion percentage than the previous year. They could then set a target for completion percentage of 60% or higher. In terms of coaching, the staff might agree that they need to call a more balanced set of plays. Perhaps rush 45% of the time, and pass the other 55%. These are all examples of strategic objectives that should help the team win games.

Much like cascading a scorecard through an organization, the team might also decide to set objectives for the supporting units, or even individual players. Special teams could create an objective to have the lowest average yards per return in their division. While an individual player, a receiver for example, might have personal objectives for touchdowns or yards after the catch. Each of these objectives supports the enterprise level strategy, and helps the organization move closer towards its mission.

Once the regular season is under way, it becomes time for the team to execute. In order to determine how effectively the team is executing its strategy, and if progress is actually being made, they must measure their results. The same holds true in strategic management; you can't manage what you can't measure. By continually reviewing the progress being made towards your objectives, you can determine areas that might need extra attention and tweak your approach accordingly. Things will not always go just the way you planned. In strategic management you hold strategy review meetings. In football, you make halftime adjustments or tweak the game plan at practice during the week. For example, if you are seven games into the season and your opponents are averaging 235 passing yards per game, the coach might decide to adjust the coverage scheme. Reviewing the strategy on a consistent basis enables the team, or an organization, to make the changes necessary to stay on track towards achieving the mission.

Regardless of if you are on the football field or in the boardroom, developing a clear strategy that members of your team can understand and buy in to, is extremely important if you plan to accomplish the mission. The objectives should highlight the key focus areas of your strategy and form the path that keeps the organization moving towards the vision. Yes, the football metaphor might have been a little corny, but I hope you can at least see what sparked my initial thought process. So, whether you're Mike Shanahan trying to devise a plan to bring the Washington Redskins back from a six win season, or you're managing a nonprofit that wants to increase its impact, remember to build a plan that fits your organization, and then communicate, motivate, measure and review.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave any questions or comments. If you're a football fan, I wish your team the best of luck this year (unless, of course, that team happens to be the Eagles, Giants, or Cowboys).