It’s a Fine Line


On Saturday April 27th Marcello Trotta stepped up to take a penalty. It was the third minute of injury time. Brentford 0-0 Doncaster. If he scored, Brentford would be promoted to the Championship. Trotta took a deep breath and started his run-up…

He hit the bar. Doncaster broke away and scored at the other end. They were promoted and Brentford faced the play-offs. But three weeks later they lost 2-1 to Yeovil and were condemned to another season in League One.

I was thinking about Trotta as Kevin Phillips took his penalty for Crystal Palace on Monday. Score and Palace would almost certainly win the ‘£120m game’ and promotion to the Premiership. Miss it and… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. (For the non-football fans among you, he scored.)

The margins between success and failure in sport are very fine – we all know that. Your ball hits the lip of the bunker, rolls towards the hole and finishes stone dead: two inches further and you’d have been plugged in wet sand. And the margins are unforgiving as well. Who finished second to Mo Farah in the Olympic 10,000 metres? Who finished second to Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France? Winners – by however narrow a margin – have their names engraved on the trophy: runners-up try and persuade their sponsors to stick with them for another year.

Then they try to cope with the despair, and try not to notice the wild celebrations on the other side of the stadium.

Thank goodness it’s not like that in business.

Except that sometimes, it is…

Right now, I know that three or four of my TAB members have big, big deals in the pipeline. Deals that will change the face of their business. If you like, deals which will push them up a division.

And win or lose that will bring problems for those Board members.

Supposing they don’t get the deals? Then there’ll be an inevitable sense of deflation. Their team – just like a sports team – will need picking up to ‘go again’ and pitch for the next big deal. That’s when the owner of an SME faces a tough task – dealing with their own feelings whilst being part motivator and part psychologist; reminding everyone that they were ‘good enough to get to the final.’ And yes, for now it’s back to the normal day to day stuff: but there’ll be another final – another big deal – round the corner.

So is everything in the garden automatically rosy if you do get the big deal? If you suddenly find yourself playing with the big boys? Not necessarily.

First of all some of your team may not want to move up a league. Others might be right at home from day one. There are plenty of examples of that in sport. Has a player ever taken to test cricket more readily than Joe Root? Has any player ever looked more tortured that Nick Compton did as he scratched out those seven runs on Sunday night?

So some people won’t relish the challenge. Others will go too far in the opposite direction. Your job then is to rein them back without killing their enthusiasm; to make sure – as the Greeks used to point out – that hubris doesn’t lead to nemesis.

And how do you deal with the penalty taker? The person whose job it is to land the big deal? However much it’s a team effort, at some point someone has to ask the age-old question: ‘would you like it in red or blue?’ In many SMEs that will be the owner: in others it will be the sales director – as many managers have found out, balancing the contrasting needs of the galacticos and the water-carriers can be a very difficult task.

So a couple of questions to finish this week. If you clinched the big deal and ‘got promoted’ how did your team react? And what unexpected challenges did it pose? If you missed out, how did you pick your team up and motivate them to go again? Above all, what positives did you manage to take from it?

As always, have a great weekend.

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One comment

  1. Jo Clarkson · May 31, 2013

    Interesting thoughts! I learnt some years ago that my tendency to move straight on to the next ‘thing’ whether we win or lose is fine when we lose (which we all do occasionally) but really ticks my team off when we win – they want to kick back and enjoy the feeling for a while, whereas I’m already putting it into the ‘sorted’ box and thinking about tomorrow! So I now try to keep my trap shut for long enough for them to enjoy the feeling of success – I guess it’s not for me to say whether I manage to or not though! (Interesting to see if Ed recognises this ‘lesser strength’ in my behaviour!)

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