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The wisdom of March Madness

Gary Gustafson Blog 8-13It’s tournament time, when great coaches have prepared their teams to perform at their absolute best. It’s the time when superstars and role players alike will get their moment in the spotlight. Months of work are just a prelude for this one big show, and there are no second chances. There will be Cinderella stories, and there will be flops. Some coaches have a knack for getting their teams to peak at tournament time, while other teams start strong but get eliminated early. Sounds a lot like a powersports operation doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at what we can learn from March Madness. 

Set the bar high. Great coaches inspire confidence, and great players exude confidence. Successful business people see opportunities, not restrictions. I can assure anyone reading this that there are more financial opportunities within the powersports industry than you could ever work on in your lifetime. Get participation, feedback and buy-in from every member of the team in executing your company vision. What achievement would be your company’s equivalent of making the Final Four?

Assemble the building blocks. Great teams have stars and role players for every position, and at any given moment in the game one of them may need to step up to help the team win. You need the right products, packaged well. Your customer service people must genuinely care about those they serve. Your marketing people need to be in touch with the riding experience. Engineers need to understand that cost and styling are critical. Likewise, engineering leadership personnel need great communication skills to persuade sales and marketing to back away from an over-aggressive new product release. These fundamental business functions of your company are like vital organs. They’ve all got to be there and working well. Management needs to be trustworthy and consistent in their expectations so that the team builds momentum all season long.

Train, don’t just practice. We’ve all heard the saying “work smarter, not harder.” This could be rephrased as “Train, don’t just practice”. By tournament time, skills should be internalized. This requires a lot of behind the scenes, off-season work that is not seen by the public. Training is different than practicing in that training is goal-oriented, not just activity-oriented.  Of course superstars will be self-motivated to train continually, but other players might need a nudge to stay up-to-date on important skills. What social media properties will be hot soon? What advances in materials and construction techniques will be making vehicles lighter and stronger next year? What diagnostic tools will make repairs more intuitive? This is what Stephen Covey called “Sharpening the Saw,” and it is vital for everyone on your team.

Make the tournament. You must win enough regular season games to get to the big show. For a business to have a shot at greatness, it must prevent injuries due to cash flow shortages or seasonal business collapses. Companies must also stay away from season-ending losing streaks like regulatory violations, recalls, public relations nightmares or bad business partnerships.

Just win, baby. Let’s assume that the building blocks are in place, the fundamentals have been mastered, and the team is in the tourney. Here the top dogs separate themselves by doing so-called little things very well. In the business world examples of this may include: one day the receptionist realizes that someone offering a major government sales opportunity is calling, and she chooses to route the call straight to the senior sales manager (who answers it, of course) rather than giving them the old “He’s in a meeting“ line. A dealership service technician may see tons of mud and grass wrapped around drive shafts and ask the service manager to suggest a winch installation for the ATV owner. A marketing director sees a new product with tremendous potential in a tiny booth at Dealer Expo and begins negotiating the rights to it on the spot while telling the social media manager to plan a Facebook campaign. A senior engineering technician risks some of his time and his company’s money to build a prototype that could be the foundation for a new product line. Winning is sometimes art and sometimes science. It involves investments in the right product lines, people and processes to execute across all aspects of your business. The real lesson here is that succeeding in March isn’t madness at all. Winners rise to the occasion with thoughtful preparation and earnest execution. And they know who they are.

Powersports consultant Gary Gustafson has spent 22 years fueling organizations that define, develop and deliver successful new products. Find out more on the web at

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