Sharing Success

Sticking with Winners

Recently, I shared former NFL coach Bill Walsh’s autobiography, Building a Champion, with my 14-year-old Kyle. Like me, Kyle enjoys reading about sports, and since then we’ve had some great conversations together about the book.

The late Bill Walsh has long been a hero of mine. One of the stories Walsh told about his early career reminds me of a situation which some Independent restaurateurs are facing today.

Here’s Walsh’s story. Before landing the head coaching job with the 49ers, Walsh was an offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and then head coach at Stanford University. During that time, he developed a unique passing strategy, which, when executed well by the right players, gave Cincinnati and then Stanford a nearly unstoppable offense. (If you’re a football fan, I’m talking about Walsh’s now-famous “West Coast Offense.”)

Even though Walsh began implementing the same proven strategy when he first joined the 49ers, he did not meet immediate success. Over time, things got ugly. In fact, three games into his third season, Walsh’s 49ers had won only 10 of 35 games. In his autobiography, Walsh said so many bad things happened so quickly during this time that he began wondering whether his offensive strategy could still work in the NFL and questioned whether the other NFL teams simply had superior players.

But instead of allowing tough times to break his confidence, Walsh doubled down his efforts to make his strategy work. He made sure his players worked harder on correctly executing his complex offense all the time, not just most of the time. He closely evaluated every play, every practice, and every player, looking for even the tiniest opportunities for his team to further improve. Eventually, something clicked and the 49ers began winning and kept winning. That season, they won 15 of the next 16 games, including the Super Bowl. For some coaches, winning seasons can become as distracting as losing ones. But instead of letting Super Bowl success go to his head, Walsh never let up. Season after season, he continually focused his players on striving for flawless execution all the time. As a result, his 49ers won six division titles and three Super Bowls during his tenure as head coach.

How does this apply to you today?

Having a winning strategy and sticking with it is just as important in business as it is in sports. If you are like most successful restaurateurs I know, you rely on a well defined winning strategy: 1) serve great tasting food, 2) provide personalized service, and 3) price your menu to make a reasonable profit. However, like Walsh in his dark days, it isn’t easy for some restaurateurs to keep their team focused on winning strategies during our currently tough economic times. Or as Uncle Dino sometimes says, “When you’re up to your rear in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp!”

When restaurateurs have asked for my opinion about what to do in tough times, my advice has been to follow Bill Walsh’s lead. That is, tough times are when businesses and sports teams need to muster the discipline to stick with their winning strategy. Like Walsh, seize opportunities to evaluate every facet of your operation, to find even the tiniest opportunities for your team to further improve the quality and consistency of your food and service. Reinforce with your team the importance of flawlessly executing your strategy of great food and great service all of the time. In short, don’t let tough times distract you from a winning game plan.

While there are no guarantees in business, executing the first two parts of the strategy well (great tasting food and great service) makes it a lot easier to avoid second guessing the third one (paying yourself first)! Furthermore, as Walsh and his players discovered along the way, sticking with a winning strategy certainly pays off in the long run.