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Ken Keller:NFL coaches lessons

Posted: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

No business can win with the wrong employees on the payroll. The responsibility of the owner is to make sure that only the right people are on the team, and to coach them individually and as a team, to success.

I grew up watching two terrific role models who happened to be NFL coaches. The lessons they taught became clear to me many years later although I recognized their success at the time I witnessed it.

I grew up watching John Madden coach the Oakland Raiders. There were only three rules for Madden’s Raiders: Be on time, pay attention and come dressed to play. He never had a losing season as a coach.

Madden’s success started by having high expectations of his players. He coached his players as a group and as individuals to win. Winning was defined and understood. Madden often repeated to his players: “The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.”

What made Madden coach and not manage? Coaching molds a person’s attitudes, behavior and skills. Madden did his best to motivate and counsel his players to help them identify and realize their full potential. He led by example.

At the pinnacle of his career, Bill Walsh was spoken of as one of those overnight successes in football. After starting out at my high school as head football coach, Walsh went on to lead the San Francisco 49ers to five Super Bowl championships in 14 years.

What did Walsh do differently? The very first thing he did was to fire all the unhappy people. Walsh took no joy in firing people but he knew that to build a better organization he needed everyone on board and that people who weren’t happy were going to be fighting his changes.

His second step was to get everyone in alignment of professionalism and businesslike behavior. That included everyone who earned a 49er paycheck. It meant professional dress and temperament during games regardless of whether the team won or lost.

To that end, the third part of Walsh’s plan focused everyone on the efforts of the team, not the successes of the individual.

Fourth, Walsh hired for both talent and potential. At the beginning of Walsh’s tenure, things were so dire that anyone was open to tryout. Bill Ring was picked out of obscurity and played in two Super Bowl teams because Walsh saw something in Ring that could help the team.

When it came to hiring assistant coaches, Walsh was not afraid to hire people who might become his competitors. He hired coaches with the expectation that they would move up to being head coaches and an astounding number of them did.

Fifth, Walsh set what he called “standards of performance” for each position. It wasn’t just a list of responsibilities but incorporated a list of actions and attitudes related to performance, professionalism and production.

Sixth, Walsh believed that his primary role was to be that of a teacher and he pushed that philosophy to his coaching staff and to his players. He believed that there was a joint responsibility for everyone to teach others consistently.

Finally, Walsh did not believe in outsmarting or outplaying the competition. He believed in out executing his opponents. He was meticulous in tracking key performance indicators and used them to determine what play would be used in what situation.

I’m not writing this column because the NFL camps are now open and the college football preseason poll was just issued.

I’m writing this column because we can all learn from John Madden and Bill Walsh. Their situation was no different than anyone in business today: a highly competitive market, limited resources and with only one real competitive advantage available to win: finding, teaching and focusing the best possible people available on the goal.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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