Which comes first: proclaiming ‘game on,’ or being ‘on your game’? Featured

8:01pm EDT November 30, 2011
Which comes first: proclaiming ‘game on,’ or being ‘on your game’?

A popular phrase today that we hear, read and view online is “game on.” These two words typically signify that the time for talking is done and the time for action is now. It’s used frequently in competitive encounters, everywhere from the gridiron to the corporate boardroom. I like the phrase because it’s catchy and short and implies that one is taking off the gloves to move forward. However, these are just empty words unless they’re backed up by effective action and positive results.

For decades — no, make that centuries — a variety of gauntlets, both words and objectives, has been thrown down with friend and foe alike to raise the testosterone levels of the combatants. It could be two prizefighters in the center ring who are given their final instructions and then bump boxing gloves or a company’s splashy rah-rah sales team video of competitors’ products being blown up to symbolize how the new corporate marketing campaign will devastate the other guy.

The problem with phrases, clever clichés and “boast and brag” prognostications is that they mean zilch unless there’s a plan to accomplish the feat. That’s where being “on your game” in business separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. Only hip-shooting leaders would ever think of jumping the gun by proclaiming: “Today, we’re going to conquer the world,” without first devising a strategy for the team to execute in order to accomplish the objective. Doing this requires a methodical approach before it’s “game on.”

There are few substitutes, except for perhaps unadulterated luck, for winning without planning, strategizing, training and continuing to fine-tune the integral pieces and parts of the task.

Too many organizations, however, make hollow statements, both publicly and internally, in attempts to fire up the troops to eke out a few extra dollars in sales. Summarily announcing “game on” to your team can cause a great deal of angst and result in serious shortcomings or even total failure if it’s not backed by substance.

All too often, leaders assert a battle cry without providing a thorough explanation of the whys and wherefores of the ultimate objective. If this key omission is made, those who have to follow quickly get lost because the goal is blurry, and they either stray from the course or become totally confused. Quickly the team chalks up the boss’s assertions extolling the company to reach new heights as just another example of the CEO’s having a big hat but no cattle — in direct reference to the rancher who talks a good game but is missing the most important ingredient, the cows.

Engaging in any competition, including business, takes someone to lead and that someone is also responsible for ensuring that all of the required boxes have been checked before proceeding, which includes having a backup plan to make modifications on the fly if any elements of the strategy are not jelling. Good management means understanding how to mitigate risk and quickly discover alternatives.

Not only must a plan be created but all of the essential accouterments must also be provided with appropriate resources, including capital, to achieve the objective topping the list. We can all learn from Apple, a company with the world’s largest market capitalization, about how to launch great products not just once but time and time again. Two obvious examples: the iPhone and iPad. Well before Apple even hinted about their existence, it spent years and huge amounts of money not only creating the products but also crafting/branding the messaging to help ensure success.

Apple is the master of starting with a whisper and building to a shout. First there are industry stories about what might be coming, followed by many different “teasers” directed at suppliers to whet their appetites, to consumers to build anticipation and, yes, to competitors to instill a bit of fear. When everything is in place, then it’s time for the big announcement that the new product will change the world.

Your organization can employ these same Apple tactics, fueled by a strong dose of perseverance and a liberal amount of perspiration. This all adds up to being “on your game” well before you proclaim it’s “game on” because, to succeed, you can’t have one without the other.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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