The Olympics seemed a little different this year.  Don’t they normally take place in even-ending years? Where were all the spectators? And why did they schedule most events after everyone had gone to bed?

That said, we loved every minute of this celebration of the pursuit of excellence.  Not only was the competition exciting, but it also offered multiple lessons for those of us pursuing the thrill of victory in expense management.

We Watch What We Don’t Ordinarily Pay Attention To
While many of us do spend time on the “marquee” Olympic summer events (gymnastics, track, and swimming), most of us don’t watch those sports year-round.  And then there are the sports that become sensations every four years.  Think curling in the winter Olympics, or rowing or weightlifting in the summer (this year, for us, it was Kumite).

Is there a “Kumite” within your expenses, a cost driver you may overlook? Dig into it – you just may find gold.

We Get Inspired
It’s not often you get to see the “best of the best” from around the world, passionately giving it their all, often having to overcome adversity to get to the games.  Success – whether in sports or business – motivates us and gives us something to emulate.

In that vein, there are probably expense management successes and achievements that deserve some Olympic-style attention.  Perhaps it’s an employee who helped the company meet its cost-reduction target or it’s another part of the business that your team can learn from.  Or a vendor or competitor that does something well that you can use to motivate your team.

We Get to See the “Habits” of Excellence
While very few of us are blessed with the talent and skills of Olympic athletes, we can still learn from them.  In addition to being phenomenally skilled, they have the habits and discipline to excel.  They are relentlessly consistent in their training.  They have a plan, and they stick to it.  They gather data on their performance and adjust their efforts accordingly.  As Bob Knight, the coach of the US gold-medal-winning team in 1984 said, “The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”

Excellence in expense management is all about process excellence and discipline. The companies that stand out are the ones that consistently invest in collecting data efficiently, documenting procedures, measuring results, and then systematically looking for ways to automate and streamline processes.

You Don’t Wait Four Years to Train
One last thought.  The Olympics is special in part because (usually) it happens every four years.  But none of the athletes at Tokyo just “showed up” to compete.  They trained for years or even decades to get there.  By the same token, don’t just show up for expense management or wait four years to do a major expense audit.  Regularly reviewing your expenses is like training; passing the annual audit with flying colors is like the Olympics.

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