As a coach, you don't get to the Super Bowl without being a great strategist and competitor. And this year's two coaches, John Harbaugh (Ravens) and his younger brother Jim Harbaugh (49ers) certainly prove this point. So when their two teams meet each other in Super Bowl XLVII this weekend you know they will each bring their best coaching strategies. Here are a few you can use to up your game:
Study Your Opponent
There's a saying in sports: "The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare." And the best coaches do this. You can bet that the 49ers coaches will be studying how the Ravens defense played in past games to find any advantage. For example, the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is very mobile. So one thing the 49ers will be looking at is how another fast QB, Robert Griffin III, used his speed to beat the Ravens 31-6 in the regular season.
Business pros need to do the same: understand how their competitors products, business model, strategy and tactics. Doing so leads to the next step...
Develop a Great Game Plan
Every coach has a game plan that lays out the offensive plays they think will work and the defensive schemes they believe will keep the other team from scoring. A big part of the Ravens' game plan will likely focus on a strong running game led by Ray Rice that makes the 49ers bring the cornerbacks and safeties up to stop it. That would then allow quarterback Joe Flacco time to throw deep. Whether this will be successful or not ultimately depends on the strategies the 49ers employ and how well each team executes.
The same goes for business leaders. It's amazing how many companies lack a written strategy that everyone on their team can execute. Every business needs one that takes into account the competitive situation and clearly lays out the path to winning.
Part of any game plan is to seek out weaknesses of the other team and exploit them. It could be throwing passes to part of the field covered by a rookie cornerback or taking advantage of an opponent's weak run defense. The 49ers don't have many weaknesses, but the one they do have is crucial—an inconsistent field goal kicker. David Akers, a kicker who in previous seasons could always be counted on to hit a field goal when needed, has now gone cold. So if the Ravens can stop enough of the 49ers' drives that San Francisco is forced to attempt mostly fields goals it could be the difference maker.
In the commercial realm it's key to find competitors' weaknesses that can be capitalized upon. Netflix beat Blockbuster by offering a less expensive and easier way to rent DVDs. And now Redbox has trumped Netflix in that space by having DVD kiosks as supermarkets and other high-volume locations.
Practice a Little Deception
In this Super Bowl you'll see a lot of deception, both as a means to overcome the other team's preparation and to keep them reacting versus calling the tune. The 49ers can keep the Ravens guessing with their ability to either have Kaepernick hand the ball off to running back Frank Gore, keep it himself and run or fake the run and throw the ball down field. And look for a few trick plays by each team to make an appearance as well.
In business it's definitely not ethical to mislead customers, but you can do a few things to keep your competitor in the dark. Probably the biggest one is to refrain from publicly revealing your strategy in detail. It always amazes me how often CEOs lay out their plans for all to see. While some sharing is necessary to keep the stock market in the loop, too often business leaders go too far in giving away what should be kept close to the vest.
Make Halftime Adjustments
Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke made famous the saying, "No plan of attack survives first contact with the enemy." This is true in football and in business. In the NFC Championship game San Francisco was down 17-0 but after realizing Atlanta couldn't stop tight end Vernon Davis they used him to catch five passes for 106 yards and make a comeback. And after having their running game stifled in the first half against the Patriots, the Ravens turned to the passing game overcome a 13-7 halftime deficit.
Business strategies, no matter how good, run into the same problem. So once the competition starts to react it's key to adjust your strategy, putting more emphasis on what's working and finding new tactics to overcome stubborn resistance.
If You Lose, Come Back Stronger
Last year John Harbaugh's Ravens lost in the AFC Championship game while Jim's 49ers lost in the NFC Championship. But they didn't give up and now both have made it to the Super Bowl (and are making history by being the first brothers to coach against one another in the "Big Game").
And that's the great thing about business: Even if you got beat yesterday, there's a chance to win today. So take these coaching strategies and use them to win your next big game.
—Mark McNeilly is the author of three books (including the popular Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Principles for Managers) and a Lecturer at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Prior to that Mark was a marketing executive with experience at IBM and Lenovo. You can follow him at @markmcneilly or learn more at suntzustrategies.com.
[Image: Flickr user Jack]