Are You Playing To Win or Not To Lose?

Emotions were running high in the last quarter of 2008, with the banking debacle, stock market meltdown, the soaring foreclosure rate, jobs losses, poor earnings reports. and dismal projections. Finally, the admission by the government, which had long denied the obvious, that we were in an economic recession. Nobody wants to use the word “depression,” but that’s the word that best describes the mood of the country. The result was that businesses and consumers put on the brakes. Most everyone started operating in a “playing not to lose” mindset.  This mindset can be costly for your career and/or your business.

The mind does funny things when negative events occur. We have to look no further than what has transpired in our government over the last several years. I thought Leonard Pitts’ article in the Miami Herald entitled “Mindless Zeal not Conducive to Thoughtful Reasoning” really captured the essence of what has gone wrong in peoples thought processes. He gave the example of a reader whose letter to the editor attacked him for writing negative articles about President George W. Bush over the last 4 years. Without rehashing the article, the real issue at stake was Rush Limbaugh’s making the comment, “I hope he [Obama] fails,” as the prime example of what happens when people get so loyal to their own ideology that they lose sight of the bigger picture. They can create a lot of harm to themselves and those around them without meaning to, out of mindless zeal. I get e-mails from friends and family all the time promoting agendas that clearly have very narrow benefit (usually their personal short-term bank accounts). Once I have read the fine print and dig deeper, it is clear to me they have either not done their homework on the broader consequences of the issues at stake or they are too selfish to care.

Negative events are really causing people to fail to look at their businesses and careers in the right way. When you are playing with a mindset of preserving the status quo, it is not unusual for decision-making to draw some conclusions that many times look like this:

  • Decide not to replace “B” and “C” players with “A” players, using cost as an excuse. This is a silly decision because one “A” player can do the work of 3 average players. If you hire the best team, your overall wage costs actually lower as a percentage of revenue as fewer people will accomplish more.
  • Stop advertising. This decision results in a threefold increase in the acquisition cost per customer in the long run and dramatically reduces the amount of leads that come to the sales force. In other words, you increase your costs and reduce your sales.
  • Do not do the things that create a positive environment for your sales people and cut off training. Salespeople thrive on positive energy; when they lack it, they do not do enough prospecting and are not at the top of their game. In the end your sales suffer.
  • Management accepts the sluggish economy as an excuse for not meeting targets and stops holding people accountable. Fact: In South Florida most companies own less than 1% market share within their target market. Therefore, there is no reason not to grow and achieve targets. All that is needed is execution of a good strategy.
  • Rather than being aggressive, executives become very conservative and adverse to any risk in their decisions. This usually means doing what they have always done. Well if you had a bad year last year, you know what you can expect this year. In addition, you miss challenging your people to see the opportunities that are right in front of them.

My challenge to everyone reading this article is to determine how you are allowing negative people and news to cloud your judgment. If everyone was “playing to win” within your value system every minute of every day, what would or should they be doing differently? What are the top 1 or 2 things you should doing right now to make a difference for your company? Are you spending the majority of your time focusing on that? If not, can you really say you “are playing to win?”

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