September 5


Moving the Needle Forward in Spite of Our Quirks

September marks the last month of the third quarter, so if you’re like the majority of my clients, you’re paying attention to the gap between where you currently are and where you aim to be in a number of important business areas. The ideas in this post are designed to help you make real progress towards your goals.

I want to share an important reminder to make choices with the time and energy you have available to devote to your business each day, so you can do the things that move you closer to your objectives. Because I got the chance to watch some great US Open tennis matches (didn’t you?), I’m going to illustrate my main point with one of the quirkiest things about Olympic gold medalist and high-ranked tennis player Andy Murray.


Andy Murray dominated Milos Raonic in their round of 16 match at the US Open on Labor Day. It was terrific tennis, full of explosive serves, powerful groundstrokes, and daring net play. Milos was predicted to be a serious threat to Andy’s path to the finals. Over the course of the match, however, we saw Milos’ advantages neutralized, as fewer and fewer of his booming serves were rewarded with aces or outright winners, and Andy’s groundstrokes and passing shots became more and more effective.

High stakes tennis is a lot like high stakes business dealings in several important ways. One of those similarities is that incongruities become magnified. If a seasoned, well-respected accountant shows up wearing a Bugs Bunny tie, for example, it causes a stir because it really seems to be out of place.

Andy’s quirk that was on display in this Labor Day match was his uncanny inability to correctly challenge the line calls. There’s a computerized system used in pro matches that is designed to to verify or overrule a call made by an official; it’s very accurate and it is the final word in a challenge. A player signals that he or she is challenging a line call, about 10 seconds go by, and then the computer-generated image of the challenged ball landing appears on screen.

Andy Murray picked the worst times to challenge and was overruled so regularly that it became a running joke. During each 10 second gap, fans clearly wondered what Andy could have been thinking to blow another of his limited challenges on such a clear call. Some may have tried to connected the dots by asking themselves, “How could a guy with so much talent lack good judgement in this area?” In fact, Andy was wrong every single time he challenged. (Players on average are right about half the time, statistically.) Technology became a distraction, just good for a chuckle and not for helping keep the match clean and efficient.

But despite this distraction, something that could have overwhelmed and derailed many great players, Andy won the match. Why? What matters the most is that he was advancing his goals in all the important areas.

What matters is that Andy held his own serve and was able to return Milos’s powerful serves, neutralizing a key advantage and breaking Raonic’s serve four times. What matters is how each player responded to the situation and adapted both strategy and tactics to the match conditions; Andy consistently came up with more creative and compelling answers to the new challenges Milos threw at him. What matters is that Andy advanced to the next round. That’s moving the needle ahead in this arena.

In business we can easily get distracted from our priorities for our own work as well as the work of our team. The very technology that we brought in to save time often seems to suck time away if not used fully or as intended.

Humans have flaws and quirks. Be aware of your own, especially, so that you’re in on the joke, and don’t let your minor blemishes hold you back from your major accomplishments and contributions. Focus on the most important aspects of your job, your team, and your company, the ones that really move the needle forward toward accomplishing your goals.

Three steps to your growth path:

Here are three key steps to take to move the needle forward in your business. In order to grow, it’s not enough to be busy; you’ve got to apply your resources to the tasks that actually make a difference to your internal and external stakeholders.

 1. Really understand what the key drivers are in your business. Many businesses owners have never taken the time to identify the 3-5 key activities and key metrics for growth, which is why it is easier than ever to grow by operating just 5-10% more strategically.

 2. Make a list of your personal quirks. After you’ve made your list, ask 2-3 colleagues their opinion for an outside perspective.

 3. Identify just one new activity or responsibility that you will outsource this month so that you can focus what really moves the needle in your business.



business growth, discipline, focus, tennis

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