Tag Archives: hiring

Leadership and the NFL Coaching Carousel

The end of the season is my favorite part of the season, at least when it comes to sports. In particular, I love the end of the NFL season. This clearly puts me at odds with the majority of American sports fans. The NFL is far and away the most watched, followed and money-making business in sports. It is a monster in ratings and revenue. But to me, it is a wonderfully public reminder of the impact of leadership and organizational culture.

One of the greatest things about sports is the clarity of record. You look back on a season and the record is there for all to see…who won, who lost, who improved and who is falling behind.  And now in our ESPN, internet and talk radio world, we all are bombarded by the firings of head coaches.  It even has a name:  Black Monday.  It is almost comical in a way, there is a degree of consistency in which teams are in the playoff hunt, and which teams are firing their coaches.  Clearly, leadership matters, and sports illustrates that very clearly and publicly.

A few years ago we took a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers as a model for effective hiring and leadership.  This year that theme holds more true than ever.  The Steelers started the year 0-4.  At a time when most organizations could have panicked, the Steelers regrouped, focused on the fundamentals, stuck to their plan and continued to do what they do year after year.  They ended up finishing the season by going 8-4 and found themselves in the playoff picture by the end of the season.  No knee jerk reactions, no panic, no second guessing, no organizational crisis management, just solid leadership.

Then there are those teams where the coaching carousel never seems to stop spinning.  The Cleveland Browns just hired their 7th new coach in the last 15 years.  The Redskins are moving onto their 8th in the last 15 years.  The Lions just announced their 8th new coach in that very same time period.  And of course there are the Raiders – who knows where they are in the count.  Same goes for the Cowboys.  There is one other theme that runs through these organizations beyond just coaching turnover:  organizational culture.  The leadership issue is not just with the coaches, it literally starts with ownership and has permeated the entire organization.  Knee jerk reactions, micro management, fear mongering and meddling owners have left the franchises an absolute mess.

Call it old school business, but there is certainly something to be said for stability.  Good organizations foster, attract, and above all develop good leaders.  People evolve, they move on, they advance, they change jobs for a host of reasons, but a strong organizational culture weathers the changes and continues to succeed.  Players and employees come and go, and there are good and bad seasons.  “Stuff happens” as the saying goes, but good leadership and a strong organizational culture make all the difference.

Attracting, hiring and retaining talent, and especially leadership talent, is a relentless pursuit.  The best talent in the world cannot overcome poor leadership.  Just look to the NFL, the worst teams get the first draft picks, yet the problems persist.

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The Lesson of Lane Kiffin’s…

…well firing.  While some rejoice, some wonder who will replace him, and others just revel in his public downfall, I found myself thinking of what we can learn.  Not about football, play calling, or recruiting, but about leadership, hiring and organizational behaviour.   Lane Kiffin came from a “football family” and had an incredibly rapid rise through the coaching ranks, becoming the youngest NFL head coach in history, as well as one of the youngest head coaches in college.  And with that rapid rise went an equally rapid rotation of coaching jobs…a series of quick changes and job transitions as a head coach.

So what have we learned:

Sustained Success.  When it comes to the whole hiring process, the basics still matter.  You need to meet people face-to-face.  Where folks went to school matters.  Candidates are a sum total of their experiences.  But above all, continuity matters.  “Sustained superior performance” is a phrase that really means something.  Someone who has been in a job for several years and has really impacted an organization, that is the true testament of their abilities.  Someone who has bounced around, “caught lightning in a bottle”, been a “flash in the pan”, or more simply a job-hopper, are living on luck and timing.  Much like Icarus, they fly too high too fast only to crash and burn.   Beware those who frequently change jobs.  They always have a great reason, but in the end the question has to be “have they really had a lasting, positive impact”.

The Non-Quantifiables Matter.  There are things that just cannot be measured, and leadership is one of them.  And in that same vein goes confidence.  Confidence of the organization in the leader is a very real issue.  It cannot be measured or quantified, but we know it when we see it, or do not see it.  Never overlook the non-quantifiables.  How a person acts, speaks, carries themself; their presence, their bearing, their communication, it all matters.  HR and Legal might not like it, but leadership is more art than science, and thus more about behavior than technical competence.

Decisions Demand Action.  Once a decision has been made, one must act.  Avoiding the inevitable helps no one.  If it is time for someone to go, make the call and move on.  It is better for them, it is better for you, and above all it is better for the organization.  An organization can withstand a degree of uncertainty during a leadership transition.  What it cannot withstand is an unending period of internal strife and division due to poor leadership, lingering doubt and general lack of confidence.

All of the above said, it might not all be Lane Kiffin’s fault.  The man obviously has great technical acumen and   did well earlier in his career.  Promoting the “hot runner” too far too fast is a common issue.  Folks who are doing well want to excel, and often that means moving up.  As leaders, we want to reward those folks via promotion and recognition.  However, as a leader one must recognize when someone is truly ready for that next step.  I really wonder if Lane Kiffin was ready to be a head coach.  Three times other folks thought he was, and all three of those times something went wrong.  It cannot be all his fault…they gave him the job.

Though I have no idea how technically competent Lane Kiffin is, or rather was, as a football coach, I do know he was not a good leader…you could just tell.  I am no student of the game, but even as a casual fan you could tell the team, the fans, and even the administration just did not have confidence in him.  Pat Haden as the Athletic Director at USC had to make a call, and credit to him, he made it.  When a leader has lost the team, the customers and the confidence of the organization’s leadership, it is time to turn the page.  Just be sure you hire the new leader for the right reasons.

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Recruiting…Saban Style

Heard an excellent interview earlier today.  It lasted less than 7 minutes and captured so many great insights into leadership and recruiting.  Granted, it was sports talk radio, but the lessons for business are absolutely clear, timely and completely translatable.  It was Colin Cowherd interviewing Colorado State coach Jim McElwain.  Not too impressive to the average person, however the conversation centered on McElwain’s 4 years working with Nick Saban at Alabama during a stretch when they won 2 National Championships.  Regardless of what one feels about sports, college football or Alabama, there is no question Nick Saban is one of the best leaders, recruiters and coaches in any field.

Paraphrasing of course, but these were the main themes when it comes to recruiting:

Recruit to the Position.  Know what the role you are recruiting for is, what that role requires, then hold to those requirements.  It is a timeless issue in recruiting and the war for talent, people wanting “the best person” for the job, yet having no real handle on what the job is, what it entails, what skills are required, what behaviors it demands, how success is defined, and what role emotional intelligence plays.  When a client starts off by saying “let me tell you a bit about the role”, it is a pretty good indicator that the search will go well.  However, when it starts with “here is what we want”, it raises concerns.  Know what the position requires, then go find the player.

Get them BEFORE they peak.  It was the best line in the interview, “don’t want the kid who peaks his sophomore year of high school…we all knew that kid”.  Harsh, but true, and frankly the most common pitfall we have seen over the years, companies wanting to go after the person who is already at the height of their profession.  Yes, you want the folks who are really good, but you want them to have runway.  It is about what they will do, about how the person can continue to grow, improve, learn and develop.  If they have hit their ceiling, then the best you can hope for is more of the same.  Do not hire someone for what they have done, hire them for what they will do for you in the future.  The competition is always working to get better…they will catch and pass those who have plateaued regardless of how good they were.

Have an extensive process that involves multiple people.  Do not “fall in love” with a candidate too early and avoid the myopic notion that only one person can truly evaluate talent.  Make the interview process extensive and evaluate equally throughout the process.  Candidates should get better throughout the interview process.  If they start strong and fade, that is a warning sign.  If you identify flaws relative to the position requirements, make the call and move on to other candidates.  But above all, have multiple people involved, and allow them to give their input.

It is a great interview, and it clearly shows two keys to organizational success – leadership and recruiting.  Will visit the leadership piece tomorrow, but for now the lesson is recruiting.  Granted, they were talking in the world of college football, but the evaluation of talent is universal.  Know what you need, find those who can do what you need when you need it, and then have a team of folks you trust evaluate the talent.  Simple really, and clearly one of the reasons Nick Saban is at the top of his field.

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Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy

It really is amazing what we can learn from the people around us. From those close to us, those who teach, mentor and mold us. From family and friends, associates and co-workers, supervisors and subordinates, peers and colleagues. And yes, sometimes from those random strangers who briefly pass through our life and leave us better for the time and wisdom they shared.  Met a guy the other day who did just that…it was 15 minutes of wisdom and the reminder of fundamentals I needed to hear.

Though I am a pretty loyal DIY sort, one thing on which I do splurge is a shoe shine.  If there are two things I took from my Naval Service, it is a strong aversion to cruise ships and a healthy bias against shining my own dress shoes.  I do shine my shoes, but I know a professional blows away my feeble skills.  While between meetings, I spied the shoe shine stand and decided to stroll by.  I was a potential customer, but I was not necessarily going specifically to get a shine.  I would see what happened.

What happened was I got one heck of a shoe shine and one hell of a reminder of what really matters in business and in life.  All this from a 15 minute chat with the shoe shine guy.  What seemed to be general banter was really great insight and wisdom.

Here are a few things the shoe shine guy taught me about business:

1 – Ask for the Business.  He asked for my business.  He saw me in a suit, with shoes that needed attention.  I was a potential client.  He made the pitch.  Business 101…cannot make a sale without asking the question.

1A – Identify the need…to the client.  He saw my shoes needed attention and he pointed it out to me.  Did I want to hear the message – no.  I did however need to hear the message.  I had a deficiency that needed addressed.

2 – The initial “no” might not be the final answer.  He acknowledged my decline of service, but then he politely reminded me again that in fact I had a need that should be addressed.  No one likes to hear bad news, but sometimes we have to hear it.

3 – Close the deal.  Gaining interest is not closing the deal.  He ensured I did not slip away.  He quickly and skillfully built what we had rapidly established:  an identified need and the prospects acknowledgement that the need requied action.  He then gained my committment to buy.

4 – Service after the sale.  Not only did he do good work, he did it with pride and enthusiasm.  He made me feel special, as if I was the only reason his business existed.

Then there were the Life Lessons courtesy of the shoe shine guy:

1 – The Little Things Matter.  It is the little things that set us apart.  They are the differentiator.

2 – Attention to Detail…it tells you a lot about a person.

3 – Take Care of Things…they last longer.

4 – Appearances Matter.  It is not about being attractive, it is about wearing clean clothes, brushing your teeth, combing your hair and yes, shining your shoes.

5 – Values.  People will spend hundreds if not thousands on suits and ties, time pieces and jewelry yet will not take the time to polish their shoes?  As the man said, “what are they thinking?  If I notice it, what do their clients think?  Their boss?”  Guy was right.

I failed to get the gentleman’s name, but I will never forget him.  What really stuck with me is that he was not particularly old.  Actually he was 34, married with a young daughter.  He was clearly proud of his family and is striving to provide for them on a material level.  Shining shoes is a tough way to make a go of things.  Especially so in a city like Chicago.  However tight it might be for them on the material front, I am absolutely positive his family has an abundance of wisdom, pride and love.

Though he taught me so much, it was the fundamentals that really linger.  Strip all the above away, and the man was nice, warm and engaging.  On the business front, he was a professional.  He took pride in his work and he treated his craft, his clients and himself with respect and dignity.  I saw a ton of business people around me those two days in Chicago, most of whom I am sure are making much more than the guy at the shoe shine stand.  However, precious few were as polished and professional, or took the pride in their work, as the guy working the shoe shine stand at the Palmer House.

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If You Build It (and advertise it)…

…they will come, or so goes the line from that classic movie Field of Dreams.  The actual quote is “if you build it, he will come”, but for many of us it is often quoted as “they”.  It is something we hear quite often in business, someone, some company, some product, or some service is absolutely perfect, yet the desired end result is unfortunately never reached.  The person does not find the job, the company does not find the right candidate, the product or service does not sell.  The issue is not that it was built, the issue is that no one came.

The closing scene of Field of Dreams shows cars lined up to the horizon, coming to the baseball diamond in the corn fields of Iowa.  Not only did “he come”, but “they came”.  The main character and his father are re-united for that game of catch, and the struggling farm is saved thanks to all the people coming to visit what was built.  It is pure hollywood and pure fantasy.  A great movie, but pure fiction.  Yet we have all heard “if you build it, they will come” not just as a cliché, but pointed to as a strategy for success.

Creating something is half the battle, the other half is advertising and marketing, sales and messaging.  The world’s greatest mouse trap is useless if no one knows of it.  Yet, so often all the efforts are placed on the front end, the creation phase.  Though some businesses drop the ball on the marketing front, where we do see the disconnect quite often is with those folks who are in transition.

“My LinkedIn profile is updated”, “I have applied online”, “I created an online profile”, “I have a great social media page”, “I am on The Ladders”, or whatever the website du jour might be, are refrains we hear often.  Are those actions appropriate – sure.  However, they are all, to one degree or another, passive behaviors.  Real success is much more likely if one actively markets what they have created.  Relying on the fortunes of luck, of someone “finding you” is completely passive and completely arbitrary.  Yes, it can work, but the odds are certainly improved if one is actively promoting what they have created.

Opening Day, well at this point Opening Week, always has my mind turning back to baseball.  It is another of those baseball related sayings “hope springs eternal” that tends to get batted around during this week.  It is ironic in a way, the classic baseball related quotes: “if you build it, he/they will come” and “hope springs eternal” are both passive phrases.  They are wonderful and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they are completely built on faith and hope of what might happen to or for you.  They do not reflect the reality – playoff baseball teams and World Series winners are not created by hope, they are created through work, planning, practice and grinding through the season, along with a bit of luck.  Just like successful business and just like successfully finding opportunities.

Bull Durham, Major League and Field of Dreams.  Three movies I can, and certainly have, watched over and over.  With it being opening week, or weekend, I can hope they will be on TV at some point, or I can take positive action and ensure I see them.

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How Not to Hire…Again

You get what you hire…almost always. Granted there are a few exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority of the time, the person you see in the interview, the person you discover through due diligence: that will be the person that shows up day-after-day at work. Yet again, the Dallas Cowboys provide a case study in how not to hire thanks to the saga of Dez Bryant.

So, what do the Dallas Cowboys, well owner and General Manager Jerry Jones decide to do…again…take a chance on hiring.  Unlike the 26 teams that had the choice, they selected Dez Bryant as their #1 draft pick in 2010 and pay him somewhere north of $12 million over 5 years.  To date that is roughly an $8 million chance.  Yes, Dez Bryant is a massively gifted and talented athlete.  However, when you look at the whole package, his troubled personal history, his career at Oklahoma State of off the field issues, and just general warning signs, the risks were readily apparent.  Physically gifted, but on the personal behavior front, there is a bit of a track record when it comes to reliability, maturity and focus.

So yet again the Cowboys find themselves with a personnel issue.  It is actually quite funny what they have resorted to:  literally a team of 24 hour babysitters, a Cinderella curfew and an off-limits lists, all for a multimillion dollar employee.   Granted, everyone deserves a second chance, an opportunity, and above all the support to succeed.  However, there comes a time when a leader has to make the tough call and realize skills alone are not enough.

After all these years and millions in wasted dollars, one would think the lesson had been learned – you get what you hire.  Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys continue to insist on “taking chances”.  Dez Bryant is just the latest in a long line of poor hiring decisions, both in players and coaches.  Granted it has worked out a few times, but the majority of the time, hiring “problem children” is quite literally hiring problem children.  Hiring is about the total person; always has been.  Heed the warning signs, look at the total package, and never fall in love with just the skill set, statistics, or “what they did at the last job”.  Skill sets can be learned or replaced, but the core of a person rarely changes.

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Petrino and Ozzie – You Get What You Hire

Interviewing is easy. Hiring is easy.  Interviewing well and hiring well are brutally hard. It all seems so simple in theory, but it is terribly difficult in practice. There are quantifiable qualifications, verifiable past history, personality tests, in-person meetings, lunches, dinners, hiring committees, but in the end it is about making a decision that is about the future. It is a decision rife with potential pitfalls and based on, at its best, only partial information.

The one good thing about our world of relentless media coverage and celebrity obsession is the opportunity it provides us to watch high-profile hiring and firing. The world of sports tends to offer the best laboratory of study possible – the hiring and firing of managers and coaches is never-ending and almost without fail very public.  And this week gave us two great case studies – Bobby Petrino of Arkansas and Ozzie Guillen of the Miami Marlins.

Bobby Petrino is widely regarded to be a very good football coach.  He is an exceptional coach when it comes to developing quarterbacks.  His record is quantifiable and real – it is easy to capture how well he has done in both wins and losses as well as in various statistical categories with individual players and teams.  The guy wins – no doubt.  However, everyone can also clearly see in his history a pattern of behavior.  Disingenuous, liberal with the truth, willing to conduct himself in a less than forthcoming manner – all fair statements.

Ozzie Guillen is also a recognized winner.  Shoot, he took the White Sox all the way to a World Series Championship.  If you can win a world series with a Chicago baseball team you must be pretty good at what you do.  However, Ozzie also comes with a bit of a colorful personality.  The media loves him because he says whatever pops into his head – as they say, he makes for great copy.

Well, in the last week we have seen Bobby Petrino fired and Ozzie Guillen suspended and clinging to his job.  Neither of these scenarios should come as a surprise to anyone, yet both the University of Arkansas and the Miami Marlins organization’s acted as if they were taken completely by surprise.  There was an absolutely massive and very public record for both Bobby Petrino and Ozzie Guillen – the organizations knew very well who they were hiring.  And that is the issue – you get what you hire.  You get ALL of what you hire.

Interviewing and hiring well is very hard.  The temptation is always there to see the extremes – how well someone has done or how poorly someone has done.  The reality lies in the entirety of the whole person.  It is impossible to just hire the winning coach Bobby Petrino – Arkansas got all of him when they hired him.  Same with Ozzie – Miami hired all of his colorful personality.  Just be ready when you are going to make that hiring decision…ready to get all of the person.

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