On Friday Night, I experienced the most amazing sports moment of my life. My son plays football for the undefeated Roswell Hornets. The team was facing Grayson High School in the Quarter Finals of the AAAAAA GHSA playoffs. The winner of the game would advance to the Georgia Dome for the State Championship Game. Both teams were entering the game undefeated, and both teams are full of amazingly talented players. That last sentence ends my attempt at neutrality. I'm an unashamed Roswell Hornet. So, watch the news clip below for a summary of the game. Or, you can skip and scroll to my 3 points that actually apply to the business world.
What the news clip doesn't capture is that all hope was seemingly lost for the Hornets. After multiple lead changes and tied scores, the Grayson Rams were inside the Roswell 5 yard line with less than a minute to play. The Roswell defense held Grayson to a field goal, but we only had 44 seconds to try to even the score or win the contest, and there were no remaining timeouts. The Hornets put together an amazing drive, fighting a tough defense and the limited time to get to the Grayson side of the field. Then, the final play happened.
After the game, I stormed the field with the students and found my son where we hugged with tears streaming down our cheeks. "We're going to the dome."
Now, I'll avoid the cliche' sports/business metaphors about overcoming adversity, never giving up, making a 4th quarter comeback, etc. I want to rather focus on the culture that made the moment even possible, and specifically the leadership of our Head Coach John Ford.
1. Invest in Your Talent Pool and build community support. (Start 'em young, raise 'em right.) In Roswell, affinity for the Hornets starts early. Our theme for this year and foreseeable future is "One Roswell." My son first became a Roswell Hornet in 2nd grade. It starts in our Parks Department, moves to the middle school feeder program, and culminates with Friday Night Lights. Coach Ford and the RHS Touchdown Club understand that for the program to have sustained success, they need a deep talent pool of kids who want to play football. So, the high school coaches lead a clinic every year to recruit kids to the sport. Then, the high school players come out in the summer to lead a conditioning week for the elementary level Hornets. Finally, the season kicks off with "Youth Night." The RHS season begins by the youth football players and cheerleaders forming a human tunnel for the high school players. The high school athletes feed off the energy, but the kids catch Hornet Fever, and the parents are hooked. The young athletes begin dreaming about someday playing at the high school level, and the kids and their parents return as loyal paying customers throughout the season, cheering on the Hornets. Does Coach Ford care if the 3rd grade Hornets win the championship? Not really. Does he care if the 8th Grade Jr. Hornets win the GMSAA championship? Ehhh. It'd be nice, but that's not the ultimate goal.The goal is a community bought into his program and a steady stream of talent that wants to play the sport.
What is your business doing to invest in its talent pipeline? Are you building brand loyalty in your community, realizing that it might take a decade to see a return on that investment? Do you have a consistent brand identity across product offerings? Do you invest in your local universities and internships to make sure that you have qualified employees for years to come?
2. Create a culture of humility. In the end of the news clip above, our QB , says, "Don't talk about it, be about it, and we did about it." That's been the quote of the weekend around our house, said with a fair degree of humor. Now, Q might benefit from some media coaching when he plays at the next level, but the spirit of what he said actually does reflect an intentional principle from Coach Ford. Arrogance destroys your culture. It's become wildly popular on social media and on websites such as Smack High to "talk trash." It's not uncommon in sports to hear an athlete brag about their record, especially when undefeated. Coach Ford has actively preached after each game and practice not to get swept up in that trend. The Hornet athletes do not talk trash. After our first undefeated season since 1968, Coach Ford took about 30 seconds to acknowledge the feat and then started preaching, "We are now 0-0." That's taken hold among the players, who now tweet throughout the week the same sentiment. In my brief foray at coaching 2nd graders, I brought out a toilet to the field to make a metaphor for my players that we would flush away our mistakes before they started to stink. (Yes, toilet talk is how you relate to 7-8 year-olds!) It became a symbol for our season to flush away both our successes and failures to concentrate on the task at hand. What's the most important play in football? The next play. It's the same in your business. Maybe you killed it last quarter... Maybe you closed a big deal, maybe you're crushing the competition ..Yes, take a minute to recognize the accomplishment, but then humbly focus on your next immediate goal. Maybe you had a bad quarter. Flush it, and go crush it this quarter.
3. Be consistent in adversity. What impressed me the most on Friday night was the calm demeanor of Coach Ford and the unbridled enthusiasm of Marcelino Ball. As our season seemed to be coming to an end, Coach Ford projected calm. Fans next to me were heading for the exits, but as I looked to Coach Ford, I got the feeling things weren't quite over. No clipboards were thrown. No profanity. No head-butting. Just a calm determination that we were going to finish the game, all 48 minutes. Marcelino wasn't calm. He is probably my favorite Hornet to watch. He is a playmaker. I sometimes think that he has headphones implanted into his ears because he never stops dancing. His enthusiasm gets him into a little bit of trouble. I think he has set a school record for personal fouls, but half of them were probably directed at him singing Taylor Swift lyrics at our opponents after hard hits. He has to have contact. He loves to hit, and sometimes those hits come just a few moments after the whistle. But, he is a leader from whom others draw inspiration. Marcelino was not projecting calm at the end of the game. That would have been out of character. He was projecting the same contagious energy he always displays. He was pumping up the crowd and dancing, seemingly ambivalent to the probable end of the season. Here's my point.
Be who you are. Don't abandon your culture when facing adversity.
The Hornets have built an intentional culture. It's a mix of enthusiasm and focus. There is a pre-game ritual. There is a post-game ritual, and it doesn't change. It will be on display at the Georgia Dome this coming Saturday Night against a formidable opponent no matter what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. Good teams become great teams when they face adversity. Last Friday, Roswell moved from good to great. What about your company? Your team-building needs to be more than a trust fall at a corporate retreat. When you're facing adversity, your true culture, your company DNA will shine through, good or bad.