Attending sporting events and seeing crowds in the stands while watching games on TV is a wonderful feeling of “the way it should be” for me. I am sure you have seen tee shirts that have the words Baseball is Life or Soccer is Life printed on them. As a former player, I always get a kick out of those tee shirts. As a former coach I believe those tee shirts contain substantial truth. I also believe that sports are applicable to business. The lessons learned in sport translate perfectly to life and to business.

When I coached soccer, even with high level players, I tried to find wins in every loss. Before we discussed areas of opportunity (improvement) we talked about what we did right. We also talked about what we learned. As the coach or manager of the team, though not always easy, I tried to force myself into that mode so we could take away some benefit, i.e., lessons learned from every situation, win, or lose. Often, if we can recognize some positives in our performance, it enables us to gain valuable momentum. That momentum coupled with realization of where we are, can help us build small improvement into our routine versus looking for a “silver bullet” to solve all problems with a single shot.

As a baseball spectator, and an oft-tortured Colorado Rockies one at that, I find myself playing the role of coach during many of the games. Sometimes I just don’t understand why the Rockies don’t play more “small ball”. Small ball is the nickname often used to describe playing the game using base stealing, hitting behind the base runner, bunting, playing hit and run and sometimes incorporating the occasional double-steal or theft of home plate. Small ball is not as exciting to some people as the three-run homer or more of a “long ball” game. The difficulty with long ball is that really good pitching normally dominates and when three-run homers are sparse, so are runs in general. In October, pitching almost always dominates during the playoffs, not the home run hitter.

The point of this is that accumulating runs one at a time instead of waiting for the big hit to get three at a time can be more effective if done correctly because it requires fewer big hits. A lead-off walk; a stolen base; a ground ball to the right side and a fly ball to center field will usually score a run without a single hit. Doing the small things consistently and well during baseball games can provide more wins.

In life, some people are blessed with incredible talent and succeed more rapidly in a chosen field than others. At the same time, most people have to accumulate skills to accompany talent in order to be successful. Developing skills takes education, training, and practice for those skills to be properly refined. As with playing small ball in baseball, becoming who we want to become in life is a process that requires consistently doing the seemingly menial tasks well repeatedly. Sometimes we behave as if all we want is the three-run homer so that our instant gratification desires are fulfilled! When, in reality, if we are persistent and focused on our vision for who we want to become we can continuously move in that direction for a lifetime. And since we all have three things in common: 1) we are going to die, 2) we aren’t perfect and 3) we will make mistakes, we essentially are a lifetime work-in-progress.

I also believe that at least a majority of us; when we come to the end of our lives, want it to have counted. And yet it doesn’t always work out that way. Famous actor Mickey Rooney reportedly died with less than $15,000 in savings. Famous actress Lucille Ball, who was incredibly funny, reportedly died a very bitter woman. How sad both of these stories are! These two people were beloved by the American public and likely around the world. We are inclined to wonder why this, and how this could have happened. Could it be that there was no vision and execution on the vision of who they wanted to become? I don’t know, but it is surely possible.

I once did some research on an American hospital and found some remarkably interesting statistics provided by the American Hospital Association. This hospital, compared to state and national averages scored more than 30% lower than state and national averages in the category of definitely being recommended by their patients. It also scored nearly five times the state and national average to probably or definitely not be recommended by their patients. When I read that I thought aloud “Wow!” Again, how could a hospital allow itself to become so poorly regarded? I don’t know, but there could be several large or small reasons. Perhaps the place is not kept clean, or the staff isn’t friendly. And of course, there could be larger reasons that pertain to equipment, skill levels, and other obvious shortcomings. But five times more likely than average not to be recommended. There must be some small ways to improve that over time will accumulate to make a noteworthy difference. I wonder if the leaders of the organization have a stated vision to continuously improve so to eventually or within a stated period of time become at least average.

A few years ago, one of my teammates and I conducted a webinar that focused on finding small improvements in Revenue Cycle Management that resulted in huge cash gains for our healthcare provider clients. She talked about coding improvements and clinical documentation improvements through simple education that resulted in more gains for clients.

Healthcare organizations, as with baseball teams and individual people can do seemingly minor things that can accumulate and create multipliers resulting in large improvements while creating positive momentum to continue along that path. Putting simple plans for improvement together is not that difficult and making sure they are executed is not that difficult either. It only takes a vision and a desire to make it count. Eventually, those changes will add up to something significant – if performed consistently over and over and over again – much like playing small ball or bunting instead of waiting for the three-run homer to happen.