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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Scoreboard Can't Tell You Everything

This interview with Bill Carter, partner in and founder of Fuse, a youth marketing agency, was featured in The New York Times:

‘Q. Talk about early leadership lessons for you.

A. I grew up in Maryland, in an area where lacrosse was the dominant sport. And I happened to go to a high school that was the dominant program in the country, and it was run by a coach named Joe McFadden. I don’t remember losing more than three games in all of high school. I was in this culture of winning, where all the coaches, the players, the kids in that high school and the administrators expected us to win.

I was recruited to play lacrosse in college by a very sort of mediocre team at the time — Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. And again, by sheer luck, the day before I was to go on campus as a freshman, I received a letter in the mail that the lacrosse coach had retired, and a new coach was coming, named Hank Janczyk. He’s still there 20-something years later. And today, he’s one of the top lacrosse coaches of all time.

Again, there was this culture of winning, this expectation that every practice was going to be unbelievably competitive. Every game was judged not only on whether we won or lost and what the score was, but on how we played. And I think that has definitely carried over, not only the expectation of winning and creating a business culture about winning, but also about whether it was the best that we were capable of doing, not just based on the outcome.

I think about that a lot in the context of our business now, about when we go into a new business pitch. If we win, I still evaluate the pitch and whether it was the best portrayal of who we are, or whether we won for some other reason. And I think about that at times when we lose new business pitches or don’t do an exceptionally good job for a client in the client’s eyes. I can still look at that and evaluate it based on factors other than the final result.

Q. Let’s go back to these lacrosse coaches you mentioned. Can you elaborate on how they affected your leadership style at Fuse?

A. My high school coach had a unique style for that age group. He had a very sort of business approach. 

There were very good players, there were mediocre players and there were players who probably were not very good and that were not going to get a lot of playing time. And he was very sort of matter-of-fact about it. The best players played. The mediocre players maybe got a little bit of time, but it wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart. It was because somebody needed a rest. And the players of lesser ability just simply didn’t play.
It was about rewarding the best players, regardless of how they had sort of achieved that. Just because he saw somebody working really hard in practice, that didn’t mean anything when it came time to play in a game.

And I learned something from that. I think working hard is great. You can log a lot of hours in the office. You can do a lot of extra work. But if the partners at our agency and the directors who run our business groups don’t think that someone’s ready to be put in a position to give a client presentation or be in a new business pitch, they’re not going to be there. And it has nothing, really, to do with what we believe about the person or their effort level. It just has to do with choosing the best people in our office to put in those positions.

When my college coach arrived, his job was to change the mediocre culture of the team, and then literally change the makeup of the team. He said very directly: “There are going to be major changes now that I’m here, and those major changes are going to come in the form of the makeup of the team, because I’m out there recruiting. And frankly, I’m recruiting players that are better than the players in this room.”

That was a tough thing to hear, but he was very honest. And the reason he did it — it wasn’t to be spiteful in any way — was to essentially say: “So, if you plan to be here, you’ve got to get better. You’ve got to get better every day in practice. You’ve got to prove in games that you deserve to be here.” And he was right.

And so I watched a culture change over those four years from mediocrity to this expectation of winning. A lot of that had to do with the recruiting practices, which I can directly tie to our own hiring practices. If you want to make the team better, you go get better players. And where were the better players from? They were from high schools that won, from their high school coaches that instilled a culture of winning, from schools that were, frankly, more competitive.

So I think about that when we recruit people. You want to be better? Go get people who are at organisations that are, at least in a particular function, better than what you have now.’


The Importance of linking Job Descriptions to Corporate Strategy

Recent research from the US shows that companies that fail to take action to regularly link jobs to strategy often are more than twice as likely to have flat or declining revenues:

  • 68% of respondents to the survey who strongly agree that there is a clear link between their job and corporate strategy report that their company is growing revenue, while just 39% of those that strongly disagree report revenue growth.
  • Just 27% of respondents who strongly agree that there is a clear link between their job and corporate strategy report that revenues are flat or declining, while 57% of respondents who strongly disagree note that revenues are flat or declining.