The "Kaizen" mindset and how to achieve peak performance

by Eric Platte, Vice President, Ticket Sales - atlanta hawks | August 07, 2019

“We call them Polywhackers. They break rocks with hammers, bag them up and we ship them out.”

That was how my then boss put into words the business process that I would be studying during an internship in 2009. My goal was simple: Find out ways to make the process of breaking the rocks into smaller pieces, bagging and sending to shipping more efficient by videotaping the process, interviewing the line workers. I would then present my findings to upper management with the hopes they’d implement my recommendations.

To note: These “rocks” were Polysilicon, a material seeing a worldwide shortage and sold at ~$90/pound (varying degrees based on purity). To put into perspective, Gold at the same time was selling at $900/ounce, but the big difference was the company I was working for was MAKING polysilicon and before the first hammer was swung, the polysilicon was in a gigantic “U-Rod” that could weigh ~50 pounds. This company was PUMPING out these “U-Rods” and making money hand over fist.

This was my first introduction to the idea of “kaizen” made famous in the world of supply chain management (my major at Michigan State) which translates to “Continuous Improvement.”

With a combination of ambition, irrational confidence and work ethic, I put the pedal to the metal and developed a handful of insights and better processes the company implemented to make more money.

But, why am I sharing this? What does this mean to you in the sports industry? The fact is these lessons have impacted me throughout my career and in my life. Part of my work DNA and now genetic makeup is to help make those around me become better.

Fast forward to last month, I hit my ninth year with the Atlanta Hawks and was on the receiving end of countless generic, preset “congratulatory” messages in my LinkedIn inbox. One stood out. I’m hiding their name as they’re a current employee with us. Also note that my reply stands unabridged and was my knee jerk response without much thought.

Message:

I didn’t wanna leave some cheesy congrats or like some preset message so I figured I would personally type this out. I just wanted to tell you congratulations for making it 9 years with the Hawks and being in the sports industry for so long. If there was anyone in the office I could even dream about modeling my career after, it would certainly be you EP! So once again congrats and let’s get another 9 years in!

My response:

Man thanks! Candidly the “generic” messages are just noise to me but this message (1 of about 50) I actually enjoyed reading and replied to. Appreciate your kind words and I look forward to serving you. Focus on continuous improvement each day and success will surely follow. Also, don’t fall into the trap of keeping up with how successful people are in your social circle (especially the toxic, fake world of social media.) Just focus on today...this day, this hour, this minute & most importantly this very moment and try to find ways to make marginal improvements

The fact that you a) are reading this article b) made it this far into the article shows that you’re already living the idea of “kaizen” whether you know it or not. Living a life focused on continuous improvement personally, professional, socially, physically and mentally is not easy, but my hope is with some anecdotal stories combined with some basic arithmetic that you’ll understand why I chose this topic when Bob asked me to write this article.

At the Atlanta Hawks, we work tirelessly to be one of the best Ticket Sales & Service teams in the NBA. We focus on things like training and development, culture, 1 on 1s and we have a strong culture of employee engagement. One of the programs we have is called the POD Leadership Development program and you can read more about it here.

We’ve been fortunate to create a culture of “Kaizen” by constantly asking ourselves, “How can we make this better?” Whether it’s our culture, technologies, training or sales process, we’re constantly challenging each other and ourselves to make marginal improvements in our business to optimize demand and sustain our winning sales culture.

In the book, “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear uses a simple chart within the book displaying perfectly why continuous improvement is important. Imagine 365 days from now you’re 37x your current self? Imagine your sales numbers being 37x higher? Your physical abilities being 37x stronger, faster, slimmer, your relationships being 37x stronger! Now, of course, the author isn’t claiming that you’d obtain 37x in every facet of life.

While I can’t say for certain what steps you’ll need to personally take to start the development of a “kaizen” mindset, here are a few starting points I’d recommend that can get you going in the right direction.

Step 1: Do an internal audit to figure out what facet of life needs attention.

This step is a deeply personal one as I’ve used my own self to reflect and make healthy behavioral changes I’ve always wanted. Ensuring that you understand what facet of life needs attention can only be answered by you. It starts with taking a solid look in the mirror. Is it your physical or mental health? Perhaps it’s your career progression or social relationships? Whatever the answer is for you, write it down.

Step 2: Audit

During my time at Michigan State, I was surrounded by people who were pursuing Accounting degrees and then getting married. My mother and brother in-law are both accountants. Learning from asking dumb questions and osmosis, I’ve witnessed the importance of businesses to have internal and external auditors to “inspect what they expect.” A good question to ask is, “What am I currently blind to in life that you wish I was aware of?” If it’s important to all successful businesses, why don’t we do this for ourselves?

Take time to time audit your current facet of life you’d like to focus and make visible changes. Be brutally honest with yourself and ask close friends for their feedback (I suggest you ask them to send it along anonymously if you truly want true candor). Compile everything into one document.

Would you tell a friend they have some lettuce in their teeth? If you’re like me, of course you would! Why? Because you care. These audits will be tough to read, and you may even have things in there that catch you by surprise but you should take them as a blessing.

Step 3: Plan

When planning, map out the course of action to build the “kaizen” mindset. This could be: books to purchase, podcasts to download, conferences to attend or even a gym membership to renew. Plan out the items you need to activate to start improving. There are a handful of apps, books and podcasts. I will recommend a few of each at the end of the article.

Step 4: Start and make it public

One of my favorite quotes of late is from Jocko Willink who says simply, “Discipline equals freedom.” Starting anything is the hardest part so stop thinking and just GO. If you’re feeling bold, go ahead and make your area of focus public by posting on social media or sending out an email/text to your friends. Public announcements will hold you more accountable and hopefully you have folks within your network that will also check up to see how you’re progressing.

Step 5: Audit (again)

How are things going? Where are you struggling? What needs to change?

Personally, trying to be someone with a “kaizen” mindset started back in 2009 and is something I’ve tried to abide by each day ever since. However, I’m not perfect. I could lose 15 lbs, better manage relationships, and watch TV over reading. However, the one item I do remind myself of is one hour each day is just 4% of your day. Finding…rather making time for continuous improvement everyday will pay vast dividends over the years and if you continuously do it, it’ll be hard for those who don’t improve to ever catch up.

I think Albert Einstein said it best “Compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” So, what are you waiting for? Go!

Editors Note: Want to learn more about joining the ATL Hawks Sales Development Program? Email your resume to salesdevelopmentprogram@hawks.com or visit hawks.com/salesdevelopment to learn more.

Favorite Apps:

● Nike Running Club

● Zero

● Strong

● MyFtinessPal

● GoodRead

Favorite Podcasts:

● Knowledge Project

● Finding Mastery

● The Daily Stoic

● Rich Roll

● The Drive

● Making Sense

Favorite Books:

● “Peace is Every Step” – Thich Nhat Hanh

● “Search Inside Yourself” – Chade-Meng Tan

● “Man’s Search for Meaning” – Viktor E. Frankl

● “Principles” – Ray Dalio

● “Ego is the Enemy” – Ryan Holiday

● “Happiness Hypothesis” – Jonatan Haidt

● “Can’t Hurt Me” – David Goggins

● “How to Lead When You Are Not In Charge” – Clay Scroggins

● “Enlightenment Now” – Steven Pinker

● “Factfulness” – Hans Rosling

-EP

Eric Platte is the Vice President of Ticket Sales at the Atlanta Hawks, and is one of the most respected leaders in our business. He's spent more than 9 years at the Hawks and has grown from an entry level, seasonal inside sales position, to the head of the department. He's proof that with hard work and commitment you can grow your career in sports and in any other industry. He's always looking to connect with new people, so feel free to follow up with Eric. To learn more about him and/or the Hawks sales program, you can check them out here: salesdevelopmentprogram@hawks.com or visit hawks.com/salesdevelopment