Winning is a Habit

Written By: Robb Stevens

Winning is a Habit

If your organization were a college football team, what would be your win-loss record from year to year, and if you tend to have a winning record, what does it take to sustain success from year to year? This was the topic of my remarks at Med One’s annual meeting in May and it’s certainly a question worthy of reflection for any person at any business.

A successful season for many mid-major college Football teams might simply be winning enough games (6-6) to be bowl eligible each year. Championship contenders however, do not and cannot settle for simply a winning record. Big schools expect more and so do their fans, so their level of performance must reflect a reasonable expectation of competing for a conference championship or a playoff berth every year.

Consistently great performance keeps a program viable and relevant and ensures that fans will go to games, boosters will continue to boost, sponsors will continue to sponsor, TV contracts will be renewed and enhanced, and coaching staffs get to keep their jobs! To settle for slightly better than average is simply not an acceptable standard.

Great football coaches know, understand and practice what Vince Lombardi said: to sustain success they must create an environment in which winning is a habit.

A habit of winning is not an easy standard to maintain and it requires constant effort. While success can definitely lead to more success, it is by no means automatic or permanent. As George Romney (father of Mitt) once put it, “there is nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.” Why is success so hard to sustain? Anyone that has been engaged in anything long enough – knows that past or even current success is no guarantee of future results.

Companies must never take success for granted. Perpetual growth means we must keep fighting and keep finding new ways to win. That involves innovative thinking, adaptability, effort, and hustle. Success should be celebrated, but if we spend too much time doing a touchdown dance, competitors will meanwhile be working to undermine our success and steal away our hard-fought territory. As in the game of Risk, survival and growth depends on protecting territory we’ve already won and constantly seeking to win new territories.

How do college football teams win on a consistent basis and what can we learn from it?

From one writer’s perspective (Bill Connelly, SB Nation), college football comes down to five basic things, four of which you can (mostly) control.

(1) as a team, you make more big plays than your opponent (2) you stay on schedule (3) you tilt the field (4) you finish drives, and (5) you fall on the ball. In other words, Explosiveness, Efficiency, Field position, Finishing drives, and Turnovers are the five factors to winning football games. (Bill Connelly, SB Nation)

As Connelly points out, when you win in these five areas, your opportunity to win games dramatically increases:

If you win the explosiveness battle (using Points Per Play), you win 86 percent of the time.

If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

This is from 2013 college football game data. It's very, very similar from year to year. (Bill Connelly, SB Nation)

How can these factors apply in business?

Explosiveness in a business sense can mean improving your close rate. Are you positioning yourself to not just quote on but ultimately win the big deals? Consistently getting points on the board is good, but for sustained success, the time you spend on the big deals must ultimately payoff. How? Find ways to outwork your opponents, be adaptable to customer needs and expectations, be genuine and reliable and create value.

Efficiency can mean finding ways to work smarter. How well do you allocate and utilize your resources? Are the visits you make, the phone calls, the e-mails you send and all your interactions with customers done in such a way that it contributes (even if incrementally) to winning new business? Are you furthermore efficient in your use of time at work? Do you maximize your opportunities every day? Are you fully engaged?

Finishing Drives is similar to the explosiveness factor in that it means learning how to be better closers. It certainly feels good to have a day filled with great sales calls, send out multiple proposals or responses to RFPs. On some days that may define a successful day, but when all is said and done, we must always be closing deals! Unless you put points on the board you simply cannot win!

Field position matters. In business, this happens when a company or brand becomes the first option a customer thinks of when they think of a product or service they may need. To become that first option means creating and demonstrating value. As Warren Buffet has said, "price is what you pay, value is what you get." Another element of gaining and maintaining field position is not just winning a deal, but winning a customer. That means repeat business. It means mastering the concept of “would you like fries with that?” as corny as it may sound, it means relationships must get beyond merely transactional.

How do we win the turnover battle? Unfortunately, teams have very little control over turnovers. They happen at completely unpredictable moments and there’s a team on the other side of the ball doing everything they can to steal the ball away. All we can do is work tirelessly to protect and strengthen the things we CAN control. At times that means every person at a company, regardless of their job description must be ever-ready to jump on a fumbled football or step in front of an overthrown pass to grab an interception. We improve our own luck when we out-hustle and constantly position ourselves to be ready to react and respond proactively when the fumbles happen. Luck does involve an element of chance, but “lucky” people respond to circumstances by spotting an opportunity and then acting on that opportunity.

Lucky people create their own luck by actively seeking to put themselves in the right place at the right time – and being in the right frame of mind to seize the opportunities before them. It’s often said that “it’s better to be lucky than good,” but why leave it to chance? It’s better to be good because then you will also be lucky.

My challenge to us is to identify ways within our specific jobs and responsibilities to find ways to improve in the areas of explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. If improvement in each of these areas can increase the chances of a football team winning, then certainly addressing similar aspects of what we do in business can help create and ensure ongoing success as well.

Anthony Lannarino, a business consultant and sales trainer ( has said: “Success is not a happy accident. It isn’t something that one day just occurs. Whatever your definition, however you measure it, success is a matter of intentions and action. Success doesn’t come to those who wait. Those who are passive find themselves hoping, waiting, and wishing that some external force would confer success upon them. But, they wait in vain. Time slips by and, eventually, hope fades. Success cannot be compelled by outside forces. It cannot be wished into existence. It has to come from inside.” (Anthony Iannarino, The Sales Blog, 2/18/17)

Collectively we seek to make winning a habit. If you don’t expect success, what are you expecting? It is up to each person to buy into and contribute to a culture of winning. With that standard of excellence, your organization can always be a championship contender.

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