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Why the Most Successful Companies Think Like Sports Teams

June 26, 2017, 3:00 PM UTC
Soccer team celebrates
David Madison—Getty Images

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “What should budding entrepreneurs know about building a business?” is written by Scott Scherr, founder and CEO of Ultimate Software.

Everything I know about building a business, I learned from my father. As a kid in the Bronx, I watched him build a successful company from the ground up. His straightforward approach to business just made sense: The people were there to take care of the business, and the business was there to take care of the people.

Many young entrepreneurs focus mainly on the business plan, profit margins, and mastering the investor pitch. While all of that matters, it’s important to remember the fundamental questions: What kind of company do you want to run? And who do you want to help you build that business?

Remembering my father’s advice helped guide Ultimate from day one: Take care of everyone, every day, and they’ll return the favor many times over. To me, the “secret sauce” isn’t in the best-laid marketing plans—it’s in having the right team to execute on them.

See also: Here’s Where Most Startups Fail

Here are a few ways you can foster business growth and success by focusing on your people:

Make a big investment in your people
In our early days, one of my “non-negotiables” was 100% paid-for health care benefits for employees and their families, and 401(k) matching for every employee. That’s uncommon for startups today (only 14% of companies with 100 or fewer employees offer a 401(k) plan) and it was virtually unheard of 27 years ago.

Think of the ways you can walk the talk so your employees know you’re truly invested in them. Catered lunches and group celebrations help preserve your culture, but remember what cultivates your core values. Maybe it’s flexible hours or generous PTO to support employees’ work-life balance. Running a successful business has many highs and lows. But when you’re relentless in putting your people first, they’ll continue on the journey with you, weathering the good times and bad.

Think like a (sports) team
As a former athlete and lifelong fan, I see many connections between sports and business. The best teams that consistently win are not simply teams with good players. Championship teams have the best players and are coached by leaders who are fully committed and know how to get the most out of their players who are equally focused. Not every person you hire has to be a star athlete or accomplished coach, but it helps to have that team mentality.

Every person counts and must be working toward the same goal. No matter what business you’re in, if you find and keep the best, most committed talent, and coach them, you’ll make it to the playoffs every year—and bring home championships.


Promote from within
When businesses are looking to grow, they’ll usually look to the competitive market to find top talent. However, many times, the best people are already on your team. Focus on building leadership from within, rather than hiring the first outsider with the right skill set, but who may not be a cultural fit. Your existing employees have a greater knowledge of the company, a deeper connection to its values, and a more personal investment in its long-term success (especially when you’ve shown you’re invested in theirs). Developing your current people also helps foster stronger relationships and business growth as your employees build their careers with your company. Some of Ultimate’s highest-ranking—and most successful—people were our very first employees.

The business strategies that work best often seem simple, but they’re also the most powerful. Like I learned from my father: Your people keep you inspired, and keep your business moving forward. To achieve continued success as an entrepreneur, keep your eye on what matters most. Always remember to invest in your people first.