So I am a big sports fan and generally listen to sports radio on my way into work in the mornings. Today marks the day when NFL teams can sign free agents (players not under contract with another team). As I listened to the radio and listening to what teams signed what players, it got me thinking how different NFL franchises are run and what we can learn that applies to employee loyalty and organization.
The Washington Redskins are generally huge players in free agency. They sign high-profile, top-dollar players. For example, today they just signed a free agent to a contract for 7 years and $100 million dollars. This is pretty typical of this organization. However, despite signing all of these free agents, they continue to struggle and have not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in years and have even struggled to make the playoffs.
Contrast that with the Indianapolis Colts. Now, I will admit I am a homer and am a huge fan of the Colts and have been since before Peyton got there so I was a fan during some pretty lean years. I love the way the organization is run, I think they are a class organization so I am going to be a bit biased. Their approach generally is grow from within. They draft well and then develop the talent on the team, only signing their own free agents and occasionally filling a need through more of a second-tier free agent, rarely making a huge splash in the free agent market. This organization has been one of the most successful organizations over the past decade.
What can we learn from these two NFL franchises? The first is you can’t go chasing every new idea or hope to hire that one great employee that is going to turn the organization around if the culture of the organization is not healthy. Second, you must have a very specific plan for your organization and be willing to follow it no matter what is going on around you. The Redskins steal the headlines with the signings but the Colts just quietly re-sign their own players and focus on developing younger players. Now the Redskins may have a plan and if that plan is to 8-8 every year, then they are brilliant. Finally, you must have some degree of employee loyalty so employees want to be part of the organization and are willing to exhibit the behaviors that will help make the company successful. If employees are not loyal to an organization, they will not exhibit behaviors that will help make the organization successful. This starts with the leadership at the top setting the tone and if you have ever heard of an interview with Jim Irsay (owner of the Colts), one of the things he really focuses on is having an organization and culture where players want to be there and aren’t stuck there just because of their contract. This also means that you bring in talented individuals and then give them the training and development along with opportunities to be successful in the organization. You grow your young talent while supplementing an occasional business need with outside talent.