By Chuck Violand

March 3, 2014

Instead of having his players focus on wins and championships, Alabama’s head football coach, Nick Saban, has them focus on what he calls The Process. In its most basic form, The Process is Saban’s way of concentrating on the steps to success rather than worrying about the end result. Instead of focusing on the scoreboard, focus on dominating the man on the other side of the line. Instead of focusing on titles, focus on finishing one more rep in the weight room. Instead of focusing on getting an “A” in a class, focus on writing an outstanding paper. Having won three of the last five national championships, it looks like Nick might be onto something.

With his process, Saban could just as easily be talking about the concept of residue in business (See Monday Morning Notes 1-20-14 and 2-3-14). By focusing on mastering the thinking, decisions, and actions that produce results rather than the results themselves, we can help impact the success of our businesses.

Business systems and procedures are probably the easiest places to see this. We either have systems or we don’t. If we already have them, we can always refine them or develop new ones to help our businesses run better. If we aren’t earning the margins we need on our jobs or if the quality of our work isn’t where we want it to be, we can tweak our procedures or the way we work to produce better residue. This is fine if our problem has to do with a system or procedure, but what if our systems are well-written, our pricing is solid, and we continue to be unprofitable on our jobs? What would Saban focus on then? My guess is he would take a look at everything and everyone from the top down in an effort to uncover the kink in the process.

In a small business, we would look at a frontline worker or a supervisor or manager to make sure he is following the systems in place. Rather than refining a system to make our companies more efficient, our task is to develop a person to help them become more productive and effective in following the system or in doing their job.

Head coaches of Division 1 sports teams spend a great deal of time poring over scouting reports to identify the very best high school talent available. They know they can develop the talent a player already has and channel a player’s inherent drive, but they can’t create either out of thin air.

How often do business owners do the same with the people they recruit? More likely, they default to desperation hiring practices where they’ll choose anyone who can fog a mirror just to relieve some of the work load or to fill a vacant seat.

All of these strategies—refining systems, training frontline workers, developing managers—are largely wasted if the owner isn’t actively working to develop himself as the business leader. Ultimately, everything in the business circles back to the owner and finds its foundation in the thinking, decisions, and actions that take place before a result can be achieved. In Nick Saban’s case, those results are championships. In business, it’s financial performance and market leadership.

Business owners would do well to follow Saban’s lead when it comes to the process rather than constantly chasing residue. In business, just as in sports, it’s mastering the process that produces the residue we’re after.