I betchya!

I have heard this expression on countless occasions. Years ago, when I was younger and much more socially active: “I’ll bet you” would actually resolve any difference of opinion usually ending with a concrete proposal. Examples abounded: “Betchya I can eat everything in sight; Betchya I can swim to the other side of the river; Betchya I can get tickets to the big game;” or whatever the case may be. 

From another perspective, this attitude of “I betchya” could be quite useful if it were applied in the business world today. Years of hardship have demoralised people. For companies to break from the reigning pessimism, however, they need to set challenging goals that are disproportionate to available resources and capacities ─ stepping outside the comfort zone as it were ─ generating hope and even the passion to attain those goals. Setting our sights high is, in essence, a way of committing ourselves to success. 

In order to commit to, or in a sense, take a gamble on a company, we need to define a position in the medium-term that is exciting and different. This business commitment must not focus on present-day problems, but rather on the opportunities open to us tomorrow; it must not replicate what the competition is doing, but rather be different, and so come up with fresh value propositions and explore new markets. Furthermore, the commitment must be over the medium-term, akin to a marathon where the runners keep their eye on intermediate goals which, one after the other, take them in the right direction.

Winning the wager means it is fundamental that it be a collective commitment, one where a maximum number of people in the company play a key role. Although we may be sure about where we wish to go after the marathon, both the path to be taken and overcoming obstacles on the way will demand of us a great deal of imagination and effort, pushing us to make the best of existing resources.

Additionally, senior management must display honesty and humility as they are perhaps the two most important pre-requisites for winning the wager. Honesty is needed for sharing challenges and opportunities, as well as sharing the obstacles to be overcome. Sufficient humility is required to openly admit that most of the knowledge to win the uphill battle is not to be found amongst senior management. Where it is to be found, though, is in the diverse people in the organisation who are, day after day, down on the ground and in the “trenches” with clients, suppliers and their own colleagues. These are the people who are best equipped to come up with valuable ideas in order to not only advance, but to go on to win the race and, with it, the wager. Senior management’s place, therefore, is to support that commitment and coordinate the efforts of all those involved, while keeping the focus on the goal. Their task is also to motivate the team, keep them abreast of progress, as well as to leverage the limited resources where they are needed most and to accelerate learning.

Inherent to all wagers are both the difficulties that need to be overcome, and the seeds of doubt at our capacity to win. However, should we truly take the risk and make our bet, and should we manage to make that commitment a collective one, then, the chances of success would be much greater than if we held back from doing so in the first place. 

Despite the potential sweat and tears from such an effort, we’ll have fun and we’ll celebrate the victory like any other wager won. 

Written by Maria Astigarraga.