When Players and Stakeholders Have Different Expectations

By Nick Claghorn

The sports business industry ‘happenings’ frequently are microcosms of society. Sport teaches us important lessons about teamwork, work ethic, and other important behavioral sciences that relate to other facets of life.

I recently viewed a Harvard Business Review interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, about a chapter of his new book, “Fixing The Game.” His book is an explicative insight of the National Football League’s relativity to capitalism.

In business, there are two games. The first is the ‘real’ game, which involves building factories, creating products, selling those products, and making a profit.

The second is the ‘expectations’ game. Shareholders create a provisionary statement of where they believe the company’s bottom line, among other things, will stand over a certain period of time.

Martin goes on to explain how these relate to the NFL by indicating the CEOs are the company’s quarterbacks.

These games exist in the NFL, as well. The ‘real’ game is the winning versus losing concept. The quarterback is out there to win the game, regardless of the score. But, in the second game, ‘expectations’ are set throughout the week to create a point spread so bettors can gamble on the outcome of the game.

This is largely the reason athletes are prohibited from gambling, to preserve the integrity of the game. If they had a vested interest in the expectation that they will win by a certain margin, they may gamble the ‘real’ game for the ‘expectation.’

In professional sports, players and gamblers often have different sets of expectations. Gamblers hope for the point spread; players don't care about the margin of victory as long as they get the win. The same scenario often plays out in the business world, where shareholders and employees hold different expectations of the company's performance.

As an alumnus who works closely with one of our chapters, I find the ‘expectations’ game to be dangerous, not only for business and the NFL, but also for the fraternity chapter. Think of a time you were upset with the active chapter. Were you a fan or were you a shareholder? Which one do you think elicits the best reaction from the active chapter’s executive committee?

It might serve a chapter best to communicate expectations of the alumni while understanding that the ‘real’ game is what creates winners. Reward the chapter for a great recruitment process by providing a barbeque for initiation. Publicly recognize the chapter for a job well done (e.g. increased manpower from last year), even if they may not have met your expectations (say, 25% increase in manpower). The real indicator is the growth of improvement.

Pressure can be a great motivator or a great de-motivator. Fellow alumni advisors should expect excellence from their chapters, but celebrate the wins along with the milestones. As the post-game press conference saying goes, a win is a win.

Read the full HBR story here.

Video: http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2011/05/what-capitalism-can-learn-from.html

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