March Madness this year has been more fun around the Lessiter household due to a deep playoff run by our high-school senior, Owen.
He and his buddies once again formed a hand-selected team for the city’s 16-team Park & Rec basketball league. There are some serious ballplayers in the group who’ve been playing at every chance for years – on the driveways, joining a gym together and even gaining the trust of a church who gave them the keys to its gym.
Independence was also apparently part of the fun; as they were one of the rare “serious” teams in the league going “coachless.” (They also didn’t want any censoring of their team name, which like most of the league, involved teenage innuendo of some sort and won’t be shared here.)
Teams were required to supply an adult on the bench and at the scorer’s table. Since I wouldn’t be the type of coach they wanted (and would have had an aneurysm over the undisciplined play), a pair of moms took to the bench and I took scorer’s table duty. (I’ve got some natural interest; I’d worked my way through my years at the University of Wisconsin in the Sports Information Office and led stat crews for football, basketball and was the official scorer/P.A. announcer for the team’s final baseball season in 1991.)
OWEN’S ‘SENIOR BUCKS’ TEAM. Pictured is the squad after their quarter-final victory. Post-player Owen Lessiter is in the back row, third from left.
While watching the NCAA games Saturday night, I pondered a recent turnaround success at our publishing company to what I’d been seeing in my son’s biweekly games. Like your businesses will from time to time, we’d been facing serious bottlenecks in a department that needed fixing and attention, and it “took work to fix the work.” Ultimately, with the help of Lessiter Media's Executive Editor Kim Schmidt and Production Manager Christopher Nielsen, we returned to an old-school tracking system of every job order, a visible posting of our on-time performance, and new disciplines and accountabilities that had slipped over time. And it was a big success in efficiency and was morale-boosting, and will eliminate a penalty to everyone’s profit-sharing results.
OK, I know you want to get back to basketball …
The high-school squad had not been doing the fundamentals well and playing down to the competition. Midway through the season, I started tallying additional stats — beyond what is required at the official scorer’s table — to encourage the guys to cut their turnovers (my records show an abysmal 29 in one game) and improve their rebounds.
“WINNERS WANT TO KEEP SCORE…”
So each game as I made my way out of the gym, I’d text a photo of the stat sheet to Owen, who shared it at their post-game breakfasts (they were “regulars” at a great breakfast joint in our town – Owen swears by the “Maxim's Special”).
The following week, several players asked me to remember to text the stat sheet. And the week after that, they were stopping at the table soon after the buzzer to check it out themselves. They’d become interested in their individual and team performance along what became an extended winning streak.
In order words, I saw a coincidence with something we had begun to instill in our company’s strategic planning process 16 years ago when we “opened things up” on our results and how to achieve them. That is, the concept that the “WINNERS WANT TO KEEP SCORE.”
NUMBERS TO MOVE. Introduction of metrics beyond what the scorer’s table required – and sharing of that performance – coincided with a significant reduction in turnovers, but the rebounding proved to be the team’s downfall.
Owen’s team put together an impressive run at the end and turned a 3-seed bracket position into a surprise championship game appearance. While the team lost a hard-fought title game last weekend, it had significantly improved turnovers and rebounds over the final 3 games. And a couple of the role players were seen diving for balls and boxing out – and I enjoyed penciling in their contributions on the stat sheet.
As I explained to my sons (likely tired of teachable moments), “that which gets measured gets moved.” It’s true of any activity and any business, and I’m always impressed with the equipment dealers whose metrics roll right off their tongue. That means that they’re keeping score, and talking about that score daily with their team. It’s no surprise that they can achieve what they do.
As I told Owen (a future math major), the metrics are different for every type of business (and the business chooses what’s most important to it). When the business determines what drives it — and what “costs” it — those things can be monitored and controlled for everyone’s shared success.
Thanks for indulging deep thoughts following a park-rec basketball season. My Wisconsin Badgers failed to make the NCAA’s for just the second time in a quarter-century, but we’ll see if our friends at Ritchie Implement (Farm Equipment Dealer of the Year Alumni Group) can get this message over to Coach Greg Gard. A native of Cobb, Wis., the farm boy’s first job was cleaning tractors and the shop at the dealership.
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