Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What makes one Company or Team better than another?

We all know of companies that are superior to others; and a tremendous amount of time, effort and money is expended daily by lesser businesses trying to find out what makes them so. For many years now, I have spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about this; and I believe I may have come up with a good example. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have two professional football teams, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. The past few years have been dismal for both of them, as they just could not find their way back to their glory days of the past. However, this season both teams brought on new head coaches, as well as making a few changes with their assistant coaches, and saw their fortunes change as well.

There is no doubt you must have talented players on any team for it to be a good one, and both teams had plenty of good players who were receiving substantial amounts of money to perform but were not doing so consistently. However, as has been proven many times in sports, government, and business, just throwing money at something without insuring it works well is not always enough. Both teams did acquire some new players before the season started, however their squad’s talent levels were pretty much unchanged from last year, so that was not a big issue in their progress either. I believe the big difference for them this year is the new and different coaching, training, and positive attitude adjustment they are now receiving, plain and simple.

So what was the end result of this transformation? With the Raiders, after changing head coaches 9 times over the past 16 years, they seem to have finally found a head coach and assistants the players respect and will play for, as well as gaining a new winning attitude. As a result, they are currently in a real dogfight in their division, as apposed to dragging up the rear. As for the 49ers, they also brought in a new head coach along with some assistant coaches, which has resulted in changing the culture of the entire team. Last year the team was 6 and 10, and just did not have “It”. So far this year, they are 10 and 2, and have clinched their division. I do not believe they are the best team in the league, as the Packers and Saints seem to have that honor. However, they are certainly heading in the right direction.

It is reported one of the first things the new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh did, was take Alex Smith, the much beleaguered 49er quarterback for the past 7 years under his wing, and let him know he believed in him, told him he was his quarterback, and empowered him to lead the team. Apparently, this was what he needed, as he has blossomed into the now seventh rated quarterback in the league. What’s more, the entire team has followed suit, and are now proving they have a ton of “It”, every time they play.

So just what is ‘It”, anyway? I submit it is having a total belief in themselves and their ability, and that they will succeed in whatever they attempt to do; no matter the obstacles. To me, successful companies in business mirror top sports teams by having the same superior leadership qualities in their owners, managers, supervisors, and/or lead personal. They also create and manage efficient systems to run their operations, and employ ongoing training programs to insure those systems are followed to the letter. They always reinforce the positive, and dismiss the negative. In addition, they show solid leadership by being consistent in everything they do, while setting good examples for the people around them. One of their big “secrets”, is believing in finding and hiring the best people they can, and then putting them in positions that will work best for them and the team. Of course, they will not tolerate malcontents and slackers, and get rid of them before they destroy the positive chemistry that has been established through hours of sacrifice and hard work by the rest of the team.

Having these characteristics and assets, and being able to then build a great team or business with them, is obviously not a common thing for most of us humans to have and accomplish, or everyone could do it. I believe in order to take advantage of them; you must have a well thought out game plan, which is then followed to the letter. In addition, you need to park your ego at the door, and learn how to empower others to do their jobs. Finally, you must work on your own weaknesses and shortcomings, until you become proficient enough to become a true leader of anything.

As far as determining who are leaders and winners goes, they are not all the same. For instance, in professional football, you have had very aggressive and vocal coaches like Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay packers, who would not hesitate to get in the players faces when a mistake was made. Then you can have someone like the Dallas Cowboys great Tom Landry, who would stand quietly on the sidelines in his famous Stetson Fedora hat with his arms crossed, showing little or no emotion. Whenever a player on his team made a mistake, instead of screaming and yelling, he responded by simply giving them a very disapproving and withering look, which made them wish they would never do that again.

There was also “The Genus” Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who helped build a series of teams that won 5 Super Bowls over a period of 13 years. He had a great sense of humor, and also did not holler, rant, and rave. However, everyone knew he was in charge, and they had best listen to, and follow him, if they ever wanted to succeed. All of these great coaches and leaders had another thing in common, they believed in creating systems to run their teams. The Packers Lombardi had the famous “Packer Sweep”; a running play that most opposing teams just could not stop even though they knew it was coming.

This simple running play dominated pro football for almost 10 years, and was unique to the Packers only. It worked by having the Tackle Forrest Gregg, and Guards Jerry Kramer Fuzzy Thurston, pull out in perfect sync to set-up a wall of beef for the great running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor to run behind while gaining chunks of yardage. Hornung said of the ”Packer Sweep”; “It worked because "It made everybody work as a team, as it gave everybody enough responsibility that you took it upon yourself to do the best you could. And it became the best play in football."

Landry’s team ran the “Flex Defense”, along with many other different innovations while he was the coach of the Cowboys for some 29 years, and at one time had a winning record for 20 years in a row.

49er coach Bill Walsh created the “West Coast Offence” in the 80s, which is still being used today. One of Walsh’s many innovations was scripting the first 25 plays before the start of the game. He said that his reasoning for having systems and then rehearsing them so much before playing the game was, “Your ability to make good judgments is much easier on Thursday night, than during the heat of the game”. Just like in business, planning and preparation will always succeed over just winging it, and then hoping for the best.

All of these men also had the ability and vision to find players and coaches that would work well within their particular systems. Walsh for instance, selected a quarterback from Notre Dame named Joe Montana. Although he was a great athlete, he was not selected until the 82nd spot in the draft, which meant that some of the other teams and coaches did not think of him as a superstar. In fact, when he first came out, some of the “experts” suggested that he had skinny legs, and an average arm. However, Walsh knew Montana was exactly what he needed for his new “West Coast Offense”, which he later proved by leading the team to four Super Bowl wins.

Montana was also a very calm player, so much so he became known as “Joe Cool”, as he just never panicked no matter how stressful the situation. The other big thing Joe possessed was “It”, and as their leader, he transferred those gifts to the rest of the team every time they took the field. Just as the leader of a successful company does every time they put the key in the front door to start the day’s business.

Just my thoughts,
Gene B

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