Advice / Leadership

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harish ramakrishnan, Member, Management Consultant


When business managers talk strategy, the ultimate goal is being unique from the competition. Winning in the marketplace is the objective whether it is winning.
For sports managers, winning is also the goal whether it is being number one or improving on past performances. Effective strategy in business is all about being different and anticipating future events in order to react and respond proactively. In sports, also, strategy is valuable for achieving the competitive edge that comes from doing things differently. Strategic alternatives aim to stretch thinking and to widen the range of options considered. The future can be described in scenario possibilities, which will have different consequences or uncertainties for different competitors.
Regardless of business or sports, each team will respond in ways that reflect their goals, assumptions, capabilities, and competencies. Competitive strategy is used to reduce the uncertainty that following one course of action will worsen the teams position another plan. When setting the game plan, it is important for businesses and sports alike to know where competitors fall on the continuum of good to bad. Good competitors understand and play by the rules of competition. Bad competitors may seem to make their own rules, to benefit their game, regardless of others. Some bad competitors will never become good competitors; it will require battles just to move them along the continuum to make them act with a sense of fair play. When a bad competitor appears to be playing outside the rules of the game, it requires continual work to manage a team’s expectations and assumptions. For example, when a team has a player known for violating the rules by getting too excited or by losing control of emotions, then future strategy must factor in the likelihood of repeated infringements and the potential to affect the game outcome. Competition necessitates performance-related activities supporting creativity and innovation, promoting a cohesive culture, implementing measurable actions targeted at success. Competition creates the need for strategy. Competition requires strategy. Competitive strategy is the search for a favorable position; it aims to establish a profitable, sustainable advantage against others in the game arena. On the sports field/court/ice, five forces are also at work that affects the game or season outcome. For example, at any point in time, the sports manager is concerned about league rivals, key personnel in upper management who pressure for performances that attract spectators, key players that leave the team, the threat of players being sidelined and substitutes with unknown track record taking up positions, and the threat of potential entrants who are the talented young stars eager to take their places with teams willing to risk signing. The unpredictability of sport requires contingency planning or strategy when dealing with competitive pressures. In business, the SWOT analysis is central to developing competitive strategy. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The SWOT template is easily adapted for developing competitive strategy in sports. SWOT positions strength and weakness together for the internal view of opportunities and threats related to external issues. In this format, resources and capabilities are matched to the competitive environment. Action choices and alternatives develop from the interrelationships identified within the grid.

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