What a Great Coach Can Teach Us on the Art of Building a Perfect Team

A new sports/coaches book is out and it’s from the NFL coaching guru Bill Belichick and called, War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team.

I’m not a huge fan of the New England Patriots or Bill Belichick, but he definitely has created a winning organization over an extended period of time, so I was really interested to see what his philosophy was that could sustain such a high level for such a long period of time.

While the book itself is what you’d expect from a coaching type book – i.e., hire the right people, focus on details, etc. — one thing caught me off guard and has an extended application to HR and how we build teams in our organizations.

Measuring by the same matrix

One philosophy Belichick has is that you measure all people for the position they have by the same matrix. Sounds basic and straightforward, right? But it isn’t. It’s not what we do in HR – we “tweak” it.

Here’s an example: let’s say you have three customer service representatives, all in the same position, same job description, same pay grade.

  • Customer Service Rep #1 is a newbie, fresh out of school, with no real world work experience.
  • Customer Service Rep #2 is a solid performer with five years in position, a rock.
  • Customer Service Rep #3 is your senior level rep, in their position for 15 years, and definitely knows the history of where the department has been over the past 15 years. You are her fourth supervisor.

You have been in your position for one year and you’ve been asked by leadership to give a performance assessment of your team of three, ranking them from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. Each rank is independent of the other.

How do you rank these performers?

You have high standards and while all are good performers, none of them are great.

Rep #1 (newbie) you give a “3.? She’s fairly new in her position but coming up to speed nicely, especially being on the job for just for a short period of time.

Rep #2 also gets a “3.? The person is a rock but to move to the next level, they really need to start showing more imitative and informal leadership ability. Rep #3 also gets a “3.? They are someone who has been around for so long that they should be far and away the top performer, but they are not. Yes, they are better than the majority of customer service reps across the company in other departments, but you expect more from someone with such tenure.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Even though all three handle the same position, we measure them differently based on our expectations of what we think they should bring to the table.

You’ve been told you have to cut two of the individuals from your team;  who do you cut? The majority of HR folks would cut #1 and #2 because they have less seniority, less experience, and it’s safe. But who would Coach Bill Belichick cut?

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Focusing on the talent-to-value ratio

This is the heart of his philosophy on building a great team – he cuts #1 and #3. Why? Cutting #1 is easy – not enough performance and experience. And Rep #3 has been given the opportunity, shown what they can do and has, based on performance, shown their “ceiling” for what you can expect.

Rep #2 has similar performance to #3, costs less money, and hasn’t shown that they have reached their ceiling performance level yet. If you do this consistently over time with linebackers, defensive backs, offensive lineman, etc., what you ultimately get is great value-to-talent ratio.

So, do you think your organization really measures everyone by position, equally? Could you build your organization around a Belichick model? Would your organization be better or worse for it?

All good questions, but I tend to think organizations fear really measuring performance because they fear they will always cut the more tenured workers – which isn’t true, but in HR we don’t like all that risk, so we shy away from truly building our teams based on performance.

How many organizations who went through layoffs over the past 3-4 years really kept their best talent? Not enough, I can tell you that.

Come see Tim Sackett speak on What Your CEO Wished HR Would Do at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event. 

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


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