If you bat 1.000 in business, you’ll eventually strike out

Every business executive wants to make the right decisions that lead to a win, be it completing a transaction, launching a new product or orchestrating a mega deal. However, reality is that there are few, if any, players who are always right and who always win.

Think about it this way. A great major league baseball player, such as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, has a lifetime batting average going into the 2010 season of .305, with more than 2,500 hits, including 583 homers. For this, he has a current contract worth about $275 million, which is nice work if you can get it. A-Rod’s average means, however, that for every time he is at the plate, he gets a hit less than one-third of the time.

Using baseball batting averages as a benchmark puts into perspective that being great or batting a thousand in most anything is virtually impossible. In business, it can mean a leader is afraid to take a swing when he or she steps up to the plate. It’s hard to get on base and ultimately score if an executive is unwilling to take appropriate and measured risks. Baseball is a game where failing seven out of 10 times is a success, not to mention very lucrative. In business, a good leader who makes the right decisions between 60 and 70 percent of the time is a darn effective mover and shaker who will consistently deliver top and bottom growth.

Now ask yourself: What is your batting average? Equally important, what’s the average for the top members of your management team? Do you reward your players for taking chances even if they don’t always pan out, or do you subtly punish an associate for daring to try something different? Sometimes it is difficult to swallow a loss; however, a mistake or a series of controlled misses can lead to uncovering that next big success.

The true game-changer in business is to be sure that you and your team are taking enough chances, new routes if you will, and breaking fresh ground. This is not a loosey-goosey process or just a thoughtless periodic roll of the dice. Risk-taking requires discipline and confidence. The discipline portion is setting a course for which you’ve never previously traveled and then progressing deliberately yet cautiously. This includes having safeguards in place to recognize when the undertaking isn’t quite right, at which time you must take a time-out and make a few tweaks or even change direction. As a company explores new avenues, there must be safeguards in place to avoid painful missteps. These include setting parameters for the dollars you’re willing to risk and the time and the resources you can devote to the effort.

The confidence portion of the equation is not being afraid to be wrong, to admit it and to try again another day. It all gets down to the risk versus the possible rewards. Certainly if you do nothing and it’s the same old, same old every day, you might keep going for some time. During this period, you could bat a thousand, but it’s just a matter of time until you strike out. As the old adage states, there’s nothing more certain than change. Those who don’t change will ultimately be the victims of change.

As a leader, you have to set the standard for change and communicate the virtues of discovery and new alternatives to your team. Growth is all about making sure you always have enough lines in the water that provide the possibility of finding that better way or new widget.

The best hitters in baseball have a career that can span many years. The flash-in-the-pan players who are great one season and forgotten the next are equivalent to executives who only had one good idea. When they stepped up to the plate the next time, they were afraid to take a swing. Three out of 10 is terrific in baseball and six or seven out 10 in business might just get you into the hall of fame.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales 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 wellness 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 [email protected].