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What If You’re The Underdog?

What If You’re The Underdog? post image

Do you have competitors who are better funded than you? Is your team relatively new? Are your competitors richer in human resources?

You might even believe that your team is the underdog.

You can turn that around and gain a competitive advantage, despite your current disadvantages, with one simple thing: eliminate mistakes.

Of course some mistakes are important for learning and we don’t need to sweat every little thing. But many mistakes are avoidable mental errors that don’t enhance learning and can hold your team back from moving to the front.

The principle is to be effective and precise at the tasks that are most important for your team’s productivity.

Yes, some mistakes have an important place. Risk-taking, failures and the lessons learned from mistakes are a critical part of the growth and improvement of any entrepreneur or leader. But, the mistakes we’re talking about are mental errors. It’s important to emphasize the importance of eliminating mistakes on the tasks that the team needs to execute with accuracy. Not every team has limitless time, capital and talent. For the teams with less, eliminating mistakes is a path towards achieving your team’s purpose.

A way to think of the category of tasks where we need to eliminate mistakes is to think of burgers on the flattop. Imagine you own a modest, but successful burger joint. Where do you earn your customers and make your money?

It starts with consistently cooking the burgers. You can experiment in other areas and take some risks with your marketing, but you need to cook the burgers properly and consistently. You can’t have mental errors with the burgers on the flattop. Every team, every business has jobs or tasks that fall into the category of “burgers on the flattop”. Those tasks need to be executed with excellent precision, especially on teams that are new or have limited resources.

Established teams with endless resources and money can get away with occasional mistakes in executing the burgers on the flattop. They have other ways to keep competing in spite of a little slop — although that never lasts forever. But, when your starting point is far behind almost everyone else, you need to be selective about where you put your focus.

In spite of any temporary deficiencies, you need to pull it all together and start to bring your team to the front. The best place to start is by eliminating mistakes. It’s the best place to start, because, for the most part, eliminating mistakes doesn’t cost anything. You don’t need more people to do it and it’s a vehicle for demonstrating and reinforcing the values that are critical for building a team.

Eliminating the mental-error-type of mistakes doesn’t require a huge repertoire of tactics and strategies. You only need a few moves that you can execute exceptionally well.

Everyone makes mistakes, but you will make fewer, and you will be proficient enough in what you do to be able to seize opportunities. In doing so you allow yourself to compete in the short run while you build your resources and amass your team’s strength for the road ahead.

rogervRoger Veliquette is a successful leader who transitioned to the business world from an international college coaching career in American football. He is committed to building teams as a pathway to personal transformation and a sustainable world. Find more from Roger on twitter @RogerVeilquette and his blog More Peers.

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Kyle Willkom   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Eliminating all mistakes is really tough, like you said, and I agree that it is important to place your focus on the area that will have the greatest effect on your business. I think the idea of working smarter applies here. In your burger example, there’s no reason to focus on what type of straws your ordering (unless there is an incredible price difference) because, overall, this has a fairly small impact, if any impact at all, on the restaurant. I think sometimes it is just difficult for smaller companies to determine what is the MOST important thing; sometimes it feels like everything is the most important thing. Great post, Roger.

Roger Veliquette   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Kyle, thank you. I can tell that we see eye-to-eye on this. And, you are right about the inherent challenge. The tough part for many of us is to determine which items fall in the category of the burgers on the flattop. As you said, it can feel like everything falls in that category and that’s where we can stumble. It’s because too often we are seduced by aspects of the business that have more appeal than the fundamentals. As a coach, there were a lot of other details that were more appealing to consider than blocking and tackling. But, even with experienced players who had been blocking and tackling for years, it still paid dividends to emphasize execution on the fundamentals. Without them, the X’s and O’s have no meaning.

Rosa Maria Cuadros   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Worked in Hospitality, and thinking about how they would take care of the mistakes every employee makes… think the best way to avoid mistakes is by not streesing your team, of creating a good environment and surely where the manager is there to always help and look for solutions.
Our work is selling and getting more proffits, why would we be worried about logics or administrative problems…
Mi experience though, thanks for sharing ur post

Roger Veliquette   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Rosa. You bring up an important point, and I agree with you on the point that good leadership does not create added stress. This is exactly one of the benefits of the approach I describe. The reason is that when leadership provides proper training and emphasis on the areas that require precision, then people are better prepared to execute accurately. In my experience, that added accuracy and clarity of understanding has been a tremendous confidence builder. I don’t want to be perfect at everything, but I must be consistent in the core activities that move me forward.

AJ Blazek   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Rog, I love it!! Reminds me of Inside Zone is our Burger on the Flattop, but the scramble drill and the 3rd and 25 would be the lettuce and mustard. Love the comparison’s. Definitley apply to every team… Business, Sports, Personnel, etc! Check out a book our QB coach told me about. You might have read it already, but “Training Camp” by Jon Gordon is a great one!

Roger Veliquette   |   28 March 2013   |   Reply

Thanks AJ! I had a feeling you might appreciate this one. Yes, Inside Zone would definitely be in the burger on the flattop category. I’ll check out the book suggestion, and I’m following your spring ball progress!

John Blazek   |   29 March 2013   |   Reply

Rog: Great common sense in any aspect of life. My son AJ shared this with me. As a retired school principal, AD, head football coach and now a GM for indoor professional teams…..mistakes cost us all time and money. I have always said if you don’t do thing right the first time…..when do you find time to do it over? Another good read is the “Tipping Point”. It talks about the little things successful people do and one is to learn from mistakes and eliminate the mistake. Good read Rog.

Roger Veliquette   |   29 March 2013   |   Reply

John, thank you for adding your wisdom to the discussion. I especially appreciate your comment that mistakes cost us time and money. Successful entrepreneurs, coaches, and managers have a culture with room to innovate and “fail forward” in strategically selected areas. We just can’t forget the importance of making our moves count – especially with limited resources. For my bread-winning tasks, I need to execute and not make mistakes that cost time and money. Thanks again. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on the post.