As a former college football player and coach and the founder of three companies, I've found glaring similarities between being a great coach and being a great business leader.
One of the most important goals for a coach or entrepreneur is to develop "A" players who are really productive. In football this goes beyond the quarterback and running back who rack up yards for the team. I'm talking about the ones who practice hard every day, run extra laps, and help out the weaker players. In business, these are the game-changers, the business-builders, the top- and bottom-line producers. They are the accountable ones; the ones who keep raising the bar and want to be measured; the ones who bring big ideas and then go out and get the job done.
Finding the "A" players is hard enough, but unleashing them so they can deliver maximum value to the team or the company is yet another hurdle. How do you ensure they don't get bogged down, side-tracked or burnt-out from carrying the team's load? Additionally, how can this process inspire the "B" players in the organization to follow suit, while flushing out the "C" players from looking busy in a thicket of superfluous email ?
Here are five ways to clear a path that not only leads to their success, but the organizations' as well.
1. Publish a game plan. Everyone needs to know the game strategy going in. When players see the whole game plan, they can make better decisions on the field. When an individual's work is clearly linked to business objectives, you'll see positive results. Not only will the goals be met, the sense of accomplishment of seeing their work matter will motivate players.
2. Put your starters on the special teams. Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots created controversy in 2012 when he loaded up his special teams with starters. Belichick said it was all about putting your best players on the field at critical times, not your least-important. Same with business. Put your top performers on the most critical projects. Give them the tough problems to solve.
3. Examine performance. In football, coaches meticulously review game films, examining every player's performance and productivity, grading them on how well individual assignments are executed. If there is a break down, plans can be adjusted accordingly before the next game. In business, this is management oversight. Whether they're aided via an online collaboration tool or other means, managers must have visibility -- not only to correct the errors or mistakes, but also to reward the good work. Nothing annoys an "A" player more than having to carry the slackers on the team without acknowledgement.
4. Be clear about roles and dependencies. If everyone does their assignment and knows the dependencies between their role and others, the likelihood of success is greater. "Play your position" is a familiar rant from coaches and it holds true in the business world, but entrepreneurs need to add on the "and know whose work is part of your critical path."
5. Trust your best players. One sign of a great quarterback like Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is the ability to quickly read a defense and change the play in the heat of the moment. In business, you need to trust your best players to make adjustments as needed without looking over their shoulder every minute.
The right management team, the right corporate culture and the right technology solutions can go a long way toward realizing this critical and truly productive goal of unleashing "A" players. While it may not get you the Lombardi trophy, it can definitely help push almost any firm into the end zone.
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