“It's not the will to win that matters, everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters.”  ~ Paul “Bear” Bryant

Many moons ago when my daughter was 3 years old, she really wanted a Barbie dollhouse for Christmas. She never played with Barbie dolls … never liked them much either … but she loved all the little people and things in that doll house. We found one and hid it in the attic to await Christmas Eve when we could sneak it under the Christmas tree.

My wife and I went up to the attic around 10 p.m. that evening and it was only then when I noticed the small print on the side of the large box … “less than 500 pieces.”

What? 500 pieces? To assemble? At this hour? Alas, yes … and man, was it painful to have to stay up until 3 a.m. putting it together. How’s that for preparation?

In our travels along the ROAD(blocks) to Success, we’ve seen how difficult it is to make the tough decision, why we struggle to keep stay focused on execution, and how difficult it is to sustain meaningful change. As if all that isn’t enough, there are still a few more barricades around the corner. Lack of preparation is one of them.

How many of us have the will to lose? Few, I’d guess, maybe between zero and none. But the will to prepare? The determination to do the unrelenting hard work to prepare to win … maybe not a lot more … and yet that’s exactly where the rubber mallet hits the lobster claw.

I’ve written before about the Alabama football team and some of the leadership principles embodied by coach Lou Saban, and even about some of the more iconoclastic football ideas fostered by David Romer, a Cal economist. But what could be a greater example of the power of preparation than the professional game of football?

Think about it for a minute. Preparation begins with a robust coaching staff, including a Head Coach and from 17 Assistant Coaches (SF 49ers) to 19 assistants (Oakland Raiders). There are full-time coaching positions for Offensive Coordinator, Special Teams, Linebackers, Tight Ends, the Passing Game, Secondary, Offensive Quality Control, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, Offensive Line, Assistant Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks, Strength and Conditioning …. Whew.

The season starts with 80 players in training camp (it may grow to 90 this year), and ends up with 45 players on the active roster during games, so that only 25 percent of them are on the field at any one time. There’s about one month of training camp, five weeks during the exhibition season, then 17 weeks of football with 16 games before the playoffs. In all, a 6-month season with practice almost every day.

For what again? Since a typical NFL football game averages less than 12 minutes of actual playing time, that’s only about six minutes for a player playing on every down on his side of the ball … for 20 total games or about two hours maximum playing time per person for the entire season.

Oh, did I forget to mention that some of the playbooks that the players must learn run to 800 pages? Dick Vermeil, the legendary Eagles coach some 30 years ago had a playbook of 700 pages. Here’s what he said about it:  "You show it to an everyday person … and they can't get over it," he said. "They just couldn't envision what was going into NFL preparation."

All of this? It’s Preparation with a capital P … and it probably should be written PREPARATION. Sure, you can say that the NFL teams can afford all of this and I can’t. How can I afford that kind of preparation … read training or education … in my business? Maybe you can’t do it all, but it’s pretty clear that exceptional performance requires a substantial commitment to the training and education processes you embed in your business.

Take a moment to view a short, three-minute video about The Container Store and its focus on an employee-centric culture rooted in a training program more than 30 times greater than the industry average. Their success, even during the Great Recession, has been exemplified by their dedication to employees and their training regimen.

Some of you probably want to hold your nose when you hear the word training, but you couldn’t be more mistaken. Training may not be the sexiest term, but when you think of it as education and learning … and equates to Preparation, one of the key differentiators among the most successful companies.

How much time do you devote to training, education, mentoring and lifelong learning for all of your players? Do you have enough coaches and mentors? Is one of them assigned to every employee? Do you use a detailed playbook or is everyone running their own plays from the seat of their pants?

It may work on the sandlot but in business? Not so much. ...


Lary Kirchenbauer, President of Exkalibur Advisors, is an Experienced Executive Coach, Educator, Author & Public Speaker. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their middle market businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. You can subscribe to his newsletter at the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com, where you will also find a library of valuable resources.