Winning Management Lessons From the NFL
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In case the unpredictability, camaraderie and showmanship weren't enough reasons to spend a day watching football, there's also plenty you can learn about managing a business. Fans know the game's much more complex than it's often given credit for. After all, sports analysts have no problem spending hours every week discussing the previous weekend's games and potential strategies for those upcoming.
So when you find yourself scrambling for new clients or having to deal with a notoriously difficult employee, recall these seven management lessons that come directly from the field.
- Have a succession plan in place. In week one of the current season, Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young injured his knee, and Kerry Collins, a veteran quarterback with Super Bowl experience, replaced him, leading them to a perfect record through 10 games. The Titans signed Collins as a free agent in 2006 to back up Young, who was their No. 3 overall pick that same year. Similarly, knowing that Brett Favre would eventually retire, the Green Bay Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and have been grooming him since. He has thrown for nearly 2,400 yards and 15 touchdowns through 10 games. Conversely, in week four the Cincinnati Bengals lost their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, when he sustained an elbow injury during practice. In his place, the team started newly signed, unproven Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw three interceptions in a 20-12 loss against the Cleveland Browns. The team has won just one of its 10 games this season.
- Make sure new hires fit in with your organization. Your company may have the chance to hire a talented, well-known executive. But in addition to the executive's ability, he should also mesh well with your organization and other employees. Despite Terrell Owens' antics while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles still signed him. While his skill helped get them to the Super Bowl, his presence the following year proved divisive and toxic to the team. After being released by the Eagles and forced to pay back a portion of his signing bonus, Owens went on to sign with the Cowboys. As the team has struggled offensively this season, the wide receiver has reverted to his habits of verbally fighting with teammates on the sidelines and blaming losses on not being thrown to enough.
- Even when business is good, don't stop looking for new opportunities. Despite football being the No. 1 sport in America based on revenue, the NFL is trying to expand. In week seven, the New Orleans Saints played the San Diego Chargers in Wembley Stadium in London, drawing 83,226 fans. Also, the Buffalo Bills agreed to play five regular season games and three preseason games in Toronto over the next five years for a reported $78 million. Some teams are selling personal seat licenses, which give fans the right to perpetually buy season tickets for specific seats, and are using that revenue to finance new stadiums.
- Recognize when it's time to cut your losses. Following a 31-14 loss against the Buffalo Bills, the 0-4 St. Louis Rams fired head coach Scott Linehan, making Linehan the first coach in 17 years to be fired in the middle of the season without winning a single game for the year. Under his guidance, the team had given up 147 points in its first four games. The Rams replaced him with Jim Haslett, the former defensive coordinator. While the move was potentially risky, the ownership saw it as necessary to prevent another 3-13 season. Under Haslett, the team won two of its first three games, losing to the New England Patriots by one touchdown.
- Don't overlook special teams. Your company may make the best "whatsit" in the industry, but that doesn't mean you can get away with an amateurish-looking website or fail to deliver your product on time. Despite strong offensive and defensive showings, teams continually blow games because of special teams mishaps. In a recent game, the Chicago Bears blocked a Minnesota Vikings punt, returning it for a touchdown, and then recovered a fumble on a Vikings punt return for another touchdown, contributing to a 48-41 Bears win. The debacles were enough to override 439 offensive yards for the Vikings and bring the special teams total touchdowns allowed this season to five.
- Figure out what motivates each employee. Some players need their egos fed; others are more concerned with seeing the team win; and for some, a paycheck is the top concern. In 2007, the Patriots traded for wide receiver Randy Moss, who had been so difficult and underachieving while playing for the Oakland Raiders that they accepted a lower-round draft pick in his place. While playing for the Patriots--known for fostering a strong sense of teamwork despite not paying the league's highest salaries--Moss broke Jerry Rice's record for touchdowns in a single season. He also has been publicly supportive this season of Matt Cassel, Tom Brady's replacement.
- The extra point: Know when to "go for two." You usually can see the anguish on a coach's face when deciding whether to kick a game-tying extra point or go for the two-point conversion with less than two minutes left in the game. To help, teams have a chart suggesting what to do based on the score, time left in the game and whether they're playing at home. Of course, there's also room for a coach's discretion based on the circumstances, such as unfavorable weather. Plan for potential tense situations to help you make more level-headed decisions. Know what you would do if your largest customer asked to end their relationship with your company, or if a fire destroyed your office or retail location.
The next time you feel guilty spending a few hours--or all day--watching football, just consider it "research." No, that doesn't mean your Sunday Ticket subscription qualifies as a tax deduction.