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"With the 1st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select..."

Thirty years ago, the NFL draft was a backwater type of event barely registering on any news network. From these humble roots, the NFL draft has morphed into a red-carpet affair resembling more Mardi Gras than a Human Resource event where new teammates are selected for the upcoming season. Just several days ago, the city of Philadelphia was overrun by rabid NFL fans who wanted to see, firsthand, the selection of new players that would, hopefully, contribute to a Super Bowl win. Indeed, there are teams such as the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers that built a dynasty almost entirely through well-executed draft picks.

If you can strip away the Hollywood fanfare, though, there are some incredibly relevant themes as it relates to building a team to win for the long term. More than most consulting firms—and borrowing from some vintage Philadelphia language—we hold this truth self-evident: it is downright impossible to perform at a high level with a poor team. In all of social science research, there is no stronger correlation. The stronger the team, the stronger the organization, and the stronger the performance. Allow us, then, to launch into three themes that emerged from watching this year’s 2017 NFL draft.

Theme 1: Work the Plan.

The very best NFL teams know way in advance what their focus areas will be for the Draft. It may be offense, or it could be defense. Often, the best teams get absurdly specific such as the left side of the defensive line or skill positions like wide receivers, kick returners, or running backs. The Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers are known for their purposeful, coherent, and focused drafts. The worst teams of the last three decades, of which the Cleveland Browns are one, are noted for the opposite—a haphazard and apparently random effort to build their teams.

Let’s dissect this just a touch more. To know whom to recruit and select, these organizations need to know their pain points and their weak spots. They also need to know organizational strengths on which to build or emphasize. This, of course, requires leadership and, in many instances, the HR department, to understand with great nuance their organizational capabilities and deficiencies. This begs the question, "How well do you know your organization?" Or rather, "When is the last time you led or orchestrated a 'deep dive' organizational analysis to best determine strengths/weaknesses?"

Let’s not stop here. It will never cease to amaze us how many organizations, including some of our nation’s best and largest, fail to develop and document a succession plan. Let’s return to the very best NFL franchises. Top performing NFL teams aren’t just drafting for 2017, they are looking two to three years out. To be sure, most of the young college players just drafted won’t even see the professional gridiron this coming season. Rather, they will grow into starting roles—often in two or so years. The lesson here is once you understand your organizational strengths and weaknesses; you need to develop a succession plan. This will inform almost all recruiting and selection decisions. Those organizations that fail to do so, will hire quickly—often in response to a crisis—and badly. With a succession plan, building a team is a purposeful and proactive process. Without it, we have a knee jerk hiring process. How do you know where you fit? The litmus test is asking yourself this question: How often do you feel that you are scrambling and rushing and maybe, even, cutting corners to hire somebody?

Theme 2: Be Explicit About Risk to the Team and the Organization.

Be forewarned, this video is disturbing. Just watch the first 30 seconds and, again, proceed with caution: CLICK HERE

This act of violence was committed by Joe Mixon, a phenomenal athlete considered one of the better running backs ever to come out of the University of Oklahoma—a place known for producing superb running backs. Indeed, of all high school running backs in the nation, he was ranked number 1 and received, incredulously, 47 scholarship offers before deciding to go to Oklahoma. That talent appeared wasted as he would receive a one-year deferred sentence for his actions along with a mandated 100 hours of community service. What would once seem as a sure fire, first-round pick was now in deep jeopardy. Who, in their right mind, would draft and invite an individual like this onto their team? The Cincinnati Bengals.

Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals with the 48th pick in the 2017 NFL draft chose Joe Mixon. Clearly, his violent behavior was wrong, and, quite honestly, if we were advising the Cincinnati Bengals, we’d advise against this hire. Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots probably put it best:

      While I believe in second chances and giving players an opportunity for redemption, I also believe that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. For me, personally, I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women.

We do know of one high potential pharma sales rep who earned a reputation of “blowing out his numbers” but always skirted ethical lines along with organizational policy; risky behaviors that eventually led to his firing or removal. He had been a journeyman at some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms. He was given a fourth chance. This time it was a bit different. Instead of waiting for this accomplished, but renegade, salesman to screw up, the Regional Manager was explicit with the individual and the entire organization about the risks, legal and otherwise. Furthermore, he put in place some lines in the sand that, if crossed, would spell certain ruin. This once high-performing, but deeply flawed, salesperson has been with this Fortune 500 firm for 9 years. Year in and year out, he’s in the top 2% of their pharma salesforce.

Before we close this point, we do want to throw one last Hail Mary. Bringing in incredibly talented, but deeply flawed, individuals has one other side effect. In particular, it can sow the seeds of organizational hypocrisy. As we type these sentences, the NFL is abuzz with exactly this sentiment. Several years ago, Ray Rice, a running back was involved in a similar incident. He’s been out of the league and, essentially, blackballed from the entire NFL. Why is the case different for Joe Mixon? When hiring individuals with this type of track record, leaders should be prepared to answer these questions. If leaders can’t or won’t answer these concerns, they probably should avoid the hire.

Theme 3: Celebrate the Hire!

Some may think this corny; we think it quite special and step number ONE to great onboarding. One of the great things that all NFL teams do is celebrate their hires! A good portion of the time, they give the incoming player a jersey and a hat to thunderous applause. There are celebratory calls from all levels of the organization welcoming the new players. Are they overplaying their hand? Is it making a big deal about nothing—after all, it is just another hire and NFL teams hire and fire all the time. We think not. Or, at the very least, we like the spirit of the gesture. Not only does it make the individual feel good, it represents the organization in a good light.

Not every new hire, we know, can get a jersey and a hat with flashbulbs popping. But we know of one large retailer that had an interesting practice that they implemented in at least one of their distribution centers. First, on the electronic message board outside the distribution center, they welcomed the new hire. Second, the security guard at the front of the center would welcome the incoming employee with a hearty handshake before escorting for badging. Next, the individual would meet the Director of HR for a 5 minute welcome. Finally, the site Vice President would personally welcome all new hires (exempt and non-exempt employees) with an individual 5-minute office call. He would strive to do this within the first 72 hours of entry into his organization. There were over 700 employees at his distribution center and he estimated that he spent 1 hour of every week welcoming and greeting newcomers. For a job that was often dangerous and taxing (heavy lifting), we were always amazed at the low turnover. We think that the low turnover has much to do with how individuals were welcomed into the organization.

So, follow the NFL lead here and make a big deal about your new hires. We’d suggest putting this all together to build a better team. To be sure, ELP is here to help along the way. Reach out to Robin Bichy to learn more at robin@elpadvantage.com.

We spend a bunch of time on the energy side where they focus on ‘the grid’. We also have one foot solidly in the rail and transportation industry. Here, discussion centers on ‘lines’ and ‘terminals’. Whether we talk about grids, lines, or terminals, what we’re really talking about are networks. Lost in all of this infrastructure talk, though, is the importance or centrality of our own, personal networks. Make no mistake, our personal networks require just as much infrastructure investment and care as other types of networks.

April is an appropriate month to discuss the power of your network for a host of reasons. One senior executive intuitively captured the context and timing of network growth. Essentially, he argued that after Christmas parties, we tend to hunker down in our offices as the cold winter keeps us all at bay. In April, though, we emerge from our cocoons. We play golf. We enjoy more business lunches outside on the patio or at a cafe. His logic is tough to argue against—we just have more human and social interaction as April opens.

Investing in our own personal and professional networks serves many functions, some selfish—others less so. Let’s explore some of the reasons to spend more time on LinkedIn, to invite a colleague out for lunch, or to attend a conference where the exposure to new leaders is greatly enhanced.

First, a strong network provides leaders more employment options. It is usually when something goes south that we all desperately search for options. If you don’t invest in your network, though, and bad times descend, you could be left flatfooted. Allow us to provide an example, and his name is Dennis Erickson. To this day, Dennis Erickson is considered one of the most networked individuals in college and professional football. He’s held seven head coaching positions at the college level and two within the NFL. Rumor has it that he has proclaimed that he could be fired at noon and have at least one job offer by dinnertime. Of course, we could rely on headhunters and professional placement firms to provide us options. To be clear, though, those services fail in comparison to an engaged and active network. We know one executive who has had six major professional moves in the last 20 years, and not a single one of those was the result of a headhunter. Instead, his highly developed network allowed for his professional growth.

With the self-serving nature of networks behind us, let’s explore some other ways networks can help our organizations and us. The problems that many of our clients face are rather complex. These problems are so complex, in fact, that the likelihood of generating targeted solutions, in-house, is unlikely. When networks are cultivated, we can bring the knowledge and expertise from a variety of sources to the table. Take, for instance, what many of our sons and daughters are doing at our universities. We know of a case when one of our daughters was facing a daunting problem. She turned to the web (doing so without cheating). Offering her engineering and math advice were fellow students from Israel, Brazil, and Norway. This point should not get lost on us. Building strong networks means that we have crucial sources of intelligence and expertise that we can draw upon to solve some of our thorniest problems. As the world gets more complex and our problems more difficult, those with robust and open networks will outperform those individuals or organizations that attempt to learn in isolation.

So, what’s one to do? We’ll be the first to say that network building is not an easy task. It will never be one. The main reason is that to build a potent network means that we need to step out of our comfort zone. That looks like sitting next to someone new during a conference. It looks like asking a colleague from a different department who you may not know very well to join you for coffee. Like dating, there’s always a chance that rejection will surface; that someone will say NO to your offer. Do it anyway. Getting past that point of vulnerability is important.

Here’s an easy way to add to your network now. Reach out to ELP’s Robin Bichy on LinkedIn. Or pick up the phone and call Evan Offstein at 240.727.5965. Or, for sure, send Ray an email at ray@elpadvantage.com. In less than five short minutes, you could have another three leaders added to your network.

For many of us, Spring Cleaning is beginning early this year. 50, 60, and even, 70 degree weather has dominated the month of February—much to the sadness of some of our more energy focused clients who were hoping for a long, cold winter.

Given this unusually warm end to winter, getting a jump on Spring Cleaning, and starting the dreadful preps for tax season, we came across an old favorite of ours. Buried below stacks of paperwork and other books, we found the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 22-101 first published in June of 1985. The title of this Army manual is Leadership Counseling. This was a lucky find for us, as we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about Quarterly Performance Reviews with some of our clients. That’s what this FM is about, the tactics, traits, and skills that allow a leader to conduct and deliver effective performance coaching and counseling.

So, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. In previous correspondence, we talked about the importance of conducing quarterly performance reviews. The CliffsNotes version of our previous argument is that providing annual, year-end performance evaluations is wrong-headed and disrespectful. Notably, at the end of the performance evaluation period, people don’t have the opportunity to change or course correct. It is, by its very nature, unfair. Written, documented, quarterly feedback provides the promise of change. All leaders should do it—period. We like, or rather love, regular, documented performance counseling because it demonstrates that leaders care. Also, it provides the leader an opportunity to recognize improvement and accomplishment. Nobody ever said that all documented performance counseling/coaching had to be negative and disciplinary in its focus—just the opposite. Performance counseling/coaching can be positive and can reinforce desired behaviors.

This 30 year old Field Manual offers some additional insight, though, worth repeating. There are some common principles that should be ‘baked into’ every performance coaching episode. We highlight just a couple now.

  • Flexibility — This is where leaders get paid the big bucks. Not every performance situation is the same, and not every individual is the same. That means that the leader should try to remain flexible and adaptable as the performance coaching interaction unfolds. Nothing can be worse than blindly and stubbornly holding a position in spite of contradictory information. Employees and subordinate leaders want to see their leaders as listeners while recognizing their uniqueness and individuality. This doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means listening to information as it is shared and not holding fixed judgements. Quite simply, keep your mind open to possibilities.
  • Respect — Performance coaching and counseling is a tricky endeavor. Especially in dealing with individuals that are performing poorly, conflict is likely to arise. That’s why many managers and leaders shun documented performance coaching/counseling. It isn’t that they’re too busy. That’s a superficial excuse. Unfortunately, it is a bit more sinister than that. Rather, it is because they lack the courage to confront conflict. Heeding to a Respect First mantra can help win the day. We know of one leader who begins the performance coaching session with a set of guiding principles. He begins by giving voice to the maxim — disagreement should never mean disrespect.
  • Support — It’s hard to believe that in the midst of the Cold War, an Army FM could be so soft and kind. Somehow, back then and even while emphasizing individual accountability, the leader must be open to feedback. Specifically, leaders can directly and meaningfully impact performance by providing support. One of our prior clients who was also a favorite of ours focused leader support with two questions: 1) What obstacles can I help remove to improve your or your team’s performance? 2) What resources (financial, staffing, or otherwise) can I provide to improve your or your team’s performance? When framed this way, it makes the formal, documented performance counseling/coaching more of a partnership.

We know that many of you aren’t going to hold written, quarterly feedback sessions with members of your team. We wish you would. Even if you don’t, the principles outlined above and first spoken to us over three decades ago in the Field Manual are attractive principles even in day-to-day, informal coaching. Remaining flexible, treating others with respect, and offering support to meet objectives is part and parcel of leadership, in general—not just in performance coaching/counseling.

To learn more about our Quarterly FAST FEEDBACK system that will reduce the time of eval delivery while still offering potency, contact principal and co-founder, Dr. Evan Offstein at 240.727.5965. Or drop him a line at evan@elpadvantage.com.