As another NFL coach, Peter Carroll, who led the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl success last year, put it: “It’s really hard to get there and it’s really hard to maintain it. The challenge of sustaining is greater. It’s been demonstrated that teams can get there, but for the most part, they can’t stay there.”
Carroll’s words were prescient, and the Seahawks narrowly missed out on the Superbowl title this year, losing to New England Patriots 28-24 on a shock last-minute turnover.
But that shouldn't take away from the fact that, once again, they got to the biggest stage of their game. To do so requires huge determination and a constant battle against the complacency or loss of motivation that can strike after success.
It's something that former England football manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, was well aware of when his players headed home after celebrating their World Cup triumph in 1966. “See you next time, Alf,” said England centre forward Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick in the final at Wembley, said to Ramsey. “If selected, Geoff, if selected,” replied the manager, sending a message to his star striker that despite Hurst now being a World Cup winner, he still had to continue to prove his worth.
With two Barclays Premier League title wins in the past three years, and four trophies since 2011, Manchester City have demonstrated the focus and drive required to compete at the highest level on multiple fronts. But how do you maintain a winning mentality in business?
Leading by example
Leaders are key, reckons Stefan Stern, visiting professor at Cass Business School in London. He says: “The war on complacency must be fought from, and at, the top.”
Stern cites Jim Collins, author of the acclaimed business book How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, who writes: “The best leaders we’ve studied never presume that they’ve reached ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them success. They retain a somewhat irrational fear that perhaps their success stems from luck.”
In other words, business leaders and their teams should never assume they know everything just because they’ve reached the top. If things do start to go wrong, they need to acknowledge the problem and arrest it.
“Never settle for what you have achieved,” Stern advises businesses. “Keep asking difficult questions. Do not ban bad news; on the contrary, seek it out. Explore what is going wrong and encourage a spirit of openness.”
Another way to keep team members motivated is to create a culture of continuous improvement, in which employees are encouraged to suggest ways in which a winning business can keep moving forward, and are rewarded when they come up with good ideas.
Bob Youngentob, co-founder and president of EYA Homes, an urban neighbourhood developer that has twice been named ‘America’s Best Builder’, says embracing continuous learning is so important to EYA that the company created its theme for the year, “sharpening the saw”, around the idea that learning never stops.
It’s another way to ensure everyone in your organisation keeps moving forward rather than standing still, because if you do, that winning feeling will disappear all too quickly.