Sports Offers Lessons on Strategic Management and Planning


Lessons from sports – strategies by legendary Yankee manager Casey Stengel and outstanding football coach Bill Walsh – serve as great metaphors for business success via innovation and strategic management.

Coach Stengel was quite the innovator and taught us wonderful lessons about human resources, especially the tactic known as platooning in baseball when he managed the Yankees for three decades starting in the 1940s.

He is the only Major League manager to win five consecutive World Series and he won seven championships from1949 to 1958. Stengel and his influence were as well-known as his legendary players, including slugger Mickey Mantle.

Stengel said it best: “Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.”

                            Casey Stengel


Stengel, perhaps unknowingly, provided another insight about management strategy: “If we’re going to win the pennant, we’ve got to start thinking we’re not as good as we think we are.”

Innovation is also a lesson from Walsh, the visionary Hall of Fame football coach, who guided the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl titles.

Bill Walsh


Two of Walsh’s keys to success:

  1. Daily, he relentlessly assessed his team and personal-coaching performances.
  2. He knew talent and he was close with his players, but he was clinically objective. Walsh knew when his players were through in their careers. For the overall good of the 49ers, he’d rather see a player retire too early instead of waiting too long to hang up the uniform.

There was a motivational benefit to his innovative approach: His players were aware of his philosophy and played more efficiently to keep their jobs.

Innovation in Business

Troubled companies need strategic solutions:

  • Changing their risk-averse culture
  • Developing a more efficient HR program
  • Implementing strategies to get-to-know their customers
  • Establishing benchmarks and tying them to salesperson/sales management performance
  • Developing a leadership program
  • Hiring better communicators and innovators

That means hiring a Casey Stengel or a Bill Walsh for strategic thinking, a state-of-the-art human resources program, and strong marketing focus.

Textbook on Strategic Management

Executives might read a college textbook, “Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach,” by University of Washington’s Dr. Charles W. L. Hill and Texas A&M University’s Dr. Gareth R. Jones.

Just as consumers like one-stop shopping at Costco or Fred Meyer, the book is a good source for learning a host of business solutions.

Its 647-pages are full of case studies of well-known businesses on customer satisfaction, efficiency, innovation and quality. In fact, dozens of authors have cited the book for solutions. They range from developing trends in performance and competitive advantage to business strategy and technology.

For example, the authors wrote:

“The major components of the strategic management process are defining the mission and major goals of the organization; analyzing the external and internal environments of the organization; choosing a business model and strategies that align or fit an organization’s strengths and weaknesses with external environmental opportunities and threats; and adopting organizational structures and control systems to implement the organization’s chosen strategy.”

Do you capitalize on your organizational wisdom where your proverbial tires meet the road? If not, talk with your customers and lower-level workers.

“A revision of the concept suggests that strategy can emerge from deep within an organization in the absence of formal plans as lower-level managers respond to unpredicted situations,” wrote the authors.

“Strategic planning often fails because executives do not plan for uncertainty and because ivory tower planners lose touch with operating realities,” they pointed out.

Key question for management

My sense is that strategic management often fails because companies fail to successfully answer one basic question: Are the right managers in place?

Many organizations fail to reach their potential because they’re guilty of ignoring The Peter Principle. That’s the theory first introduced by Lawrence Peter, who received his doctorate from Washington State University in 1963.

In 1968, Dr. Peter wrote his book, “The Peter Principle,” in which he theorizes: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

Consider your own career: How many times have you worked for incompetent bosses?

Just because an employee is adequate in one capacity, does not mean the person is competent at a higher level. Often, companies will promote salespeople into management without adequate education or training.

In essence, violation of The Peter Principle leads to the downfall of organizations.

As Biz Coach, I regularly hear complaints about poor management. As a business-performance consultant, I’ve seen it many times in both the private and public sector.

The temporary solution in medium to large organizations is what Peter calls “lateral arabesque.” That means moving the incompetent employee laterally to another position to prevent further damage to the organization.

The long-term solution is two-fold: Hire the right people and conduct tactical performance reviews to lay a foundation for up-to-date strategic management.

Stengel and Walsh would be impressed.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related resource links:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

-Yogi Bera


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

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Biz Coach Terry Corbell – the business-performance consultant – provides Proven Solutions for Maximum Profits.