Hi Washington Football Family,
Tuesday is the classic "Day Off" for the guys on the squad, where they are focused on recovery, spending a little time with family, and pivoting their attention to the next game. A deep breath if you will. I thought that I would take advantage of that natural break in the week to give you a weekly update on the business side of the Washington Football House. I use a slightly longer format to answer some of the things I expect are on your minds, since 280 characters don't allow you to get details and often bring out the shittiest aspects in all of us 😊. So here we go...
Every so often, we are reminded that NFL players are part of a much bigger fraternity than what people normally see on the field.
We saw that Sunday when Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow went down with a knee injury in the third quarter (truly praying for a full and speedy recovery for Joe). Despite being in the middle of a hotly contested 9-7 game, both sidelines, including his former Ohio State teammates -- Dwayne Haskins Jr., Terry McLaurin and Chase Young -- were all there supporting him as he was carted off the field.
These players know their fates are tied; when one player succeeds, it often benefits everyone else. A free agent gets a record contract and the bar goes up for every future free agent at that position. An overlooked journeyman has a breakout season and other teams realize they should give similar players on their squad more playing time. When one guy successfully transitions to a post-NFL career, players celebrate because he can and will create opportunities for them as well. Players are almost always pulling for each other when the whistle stops.
I experienced a version of this support during my own career in one of my many "trial by fire" moments when I was playing for the Browns. On the first play during one of our matchups with the Patriots, our starting running back went down with an ankle sprain. I was the only other active running back on the roster that week. I took every snap on offense and still did my role on special teams. I was completely exhausted, but I felt like I had played a decent game.
Despite battling and butting helmets with Rodney Harrison all game, he came up to me afterwards and said, "Hey, man, you did your thing. You just got paid today. I'm excited for you."
While we on the business side are not battling with opponents on the field, the corollary we can take from this is we need to look at each department's and individual's success as a benefit to the whole team. Each department and team member should have their own performance goals (i.e., $X in line item revenue) that guide their work throughout the year. However, if these goals indirectly harm another part of the business or don't encourage cross department collaboration, we will fail at delivering good service and an innovative, high quality fan experience. Even beyond that, we can and should remain in open dialogue with other teams in the league, thereby exchanging ideas that will be beneficial to the entire league.
This reminds us to measure and reward group and organization wide achievements in addition to individual or department success. To this end, one of my priorities is setting up KPIs and re-designing incentives that drive organization wide business performance. This can be tricky but is very much worth the boost it gives to both business performance and the culture that fuels it.
How do you establish a philosophy of "disruption" across an organization?
I've used the term "disruption" in some of my other blogs, and I think it's time for me to explain what I mean. To me, "disruption" is a process, a product or an approach to something that is substantially different from the standard way of doing things. It's an effort that causes people to pause, look at a new way of working, and see if it is worth changing the way they operate. When we say the NFL is a "copycat league," it's usually one team's disruptive tactics that start the chain of imitations.
A true disruption tends to have three characteristics:
1. A rapid pace of chance. Speed makes a difference. When a team goes into a hurry-up offense, it disrupts the flow of the game for the opponent. As part of our business transformation in Washington, we have substantially changed the HR policies and leadership structure of the organization in about 10 weeks. This causes people both inside and outside of our organization to take note and hopefully conclude we folks are actually serious about changing our culture.
2. Taking counterintuitive approaches. I feel the immense external pressure and scrutiny on our organization, and the tried and true method is normally to hunker down, be minimally communicative with the public and just ride it out. What we've decided is that in order to more quickly build the type of rapport we want with the public, the media and our fans, we need to be more open.
I'll be candid with you, I don't like being on social media every day. (You could read my intro to this blog and see how I feel about Twitter!) But I do it because it is part of an intentional counterintuitive strategy to make us in our business more transparent. You all get to see the proverbial sausage as it's being made. It's messy, but we think that is the way (shout to those who watch "The Mandalorian") that we re-establish a level of trust that strengthens our brand going into the future.
3. Step outside the mold. One of the examples I often like to give is the efforts we have made to change our tone on social media. We are constantly thinking of ways to drive additional value for our sponsors, and our sponsors do better if our social media does better. (Go figure!) We're never going to be egregious, but we will break the mold in the right ways. We should be pushing the boundaries to cause others to have to react.
As we embed those three characteristics of disruption in our business initiatives, it's important to remember that if you're willing to be disruptive, you also need to admit when it's wrong and pull back. We have to own up to our mistakes, listen carefully to feedback, and try again, because our goal is to build more value for the business, not be disruptive to simply garner attention.
One of the reasons I enjoy my conversations with Coach Rivera is because we introduce each other to new ways of thinking. I recently experienced that when he recommended I speak with a former Army ranger/special forces Lt. Colonel who has an interesting and disruptive lens on organizational culture, leadership, and talent.
I'm not going to give away this person's "secret sauce" or any details of the conversation, but I can tell you that I could listen to this man for hours. Some of the insights he gave around the mindsets behaviors and practices that help brave young people succeed in our nation's most critical national security missions were surprisingly applicable to our organization. He has a unique understanding of how to tap into the human psyche, and it actually changed my way of thinking on how I'm thinking about developing our organizational values and mission and how they're communicated with our workforce. Coach Rivera and I are having conversations with this person together, because we want these disruptive ideas to spread across, as well as up and down, our organization.
After getting another win at FedExField, the team will be back on the road to play that team from the Dallas Fort Worth area on Thanksgiving! Not only are we trying to get a win on Turkey Day, but we also want to use this as a moment of reflection. 2020 has been an unprecedented year, and if we're not careful, we'll forget the powerful, beautiful and important moments we've had in the midst of it. I hope you will have some real time in the coming days to think back on some of the ways this year brought blessing, personal growth, and other good things to you. I'll catch you on the other side of a W in Texas!