One player or one bad play in a game can cost a championship, performance psychologist Jack Stark says. In the same way, “one employee, one transaction in one day can bankrupt a large multibillion-dollar company.”
He’s been a training consultant to sports teams – including the University of Nebraska football team and a NASCAR racing team – whose consistent wins made them dynasties, and he’s been a consultant to Fortune 500 companies including Berkshire Hathaway.
In an upcoming book, The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty, the president of the Omaha-based Performance Enhancement Group lays out what he claims is a formula for creating not only a winning season but for creating an ongoing dynasty. Here are excerpts from an interview with The Globe and Mail:
Why is it so difficult to sustain a winning team?
Today, a Fortune 500 CEO can expect to keep that job for 3.6 years, and for head coaches at the professional level, it’s only 4.6 years. Why is it so difficult both to win and win consistently? Perhaps “big expectations due to big bucks” explains it. Bidding for both top corporate management and sports stars is everywhere. And the rules have also changed. After the financial meltdown of 2008-2010 (which saw the downfall of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and Washington Mutual), patience is gone and the pressure to produce immediately is enormous.
But you say there’s a formula that can almost ensure winning consistently. What are the essentials?
I was fortunate in my career being a part of 15 national championship teams, in football, basketball and most recently NASCAR racing, where Hendrick Motorsports has won five championships in a row. My formula for a winning dynasty was brought together from my experiences and research.
The first part of the formula is the roles of the people at the top. You’ve got to have three different roles in the leadership group: The first is a thinker, the person who consistently has the big ideas and puts them together into an inspiring goal. Often this is the chairman of the company or the chief executive officer. Secondly, you need to have a promoter who is an enthusiastic marketer and communicator of the vision. The third is the co-ordinator, who is an effective day-to-day manager and motivator. If you’re missing one of these roles at the top, the company is going to struggle.
But it’s not enough to have smart leaders with these abilities; they need the right personality traits. They have to be caring and honest, have the right attitude and resilience, be analytical thinkers as well as good communicators who are energetic and teach others.
Aren’t these things that people have to have to get into top management?
It’s actually rare to find them all. These are traits that are formed from your moral development; how you grew up and what kind of resilience you have when bad things happen. Many people get stuck and don’t get beyond their selfishness and looking after their own needs and are not able to get to that higher level of deeply caring about people and their overall well being. If you care about people, they will be loyal and cut you a lot of slack.
How do you translate these traits into motivating a team?
I call this part of the formula process and it can be described as SPEED:
Select the right people: Many of the best corporate leaders spend 40 per cent of their time evaluating and selecting people to match them to the right job at the right time.
Plan: Develop a game plan that everyone is aware of and that gives vision to the goals to be achieved.
Execute: Pull the trigger! Too often, difficult decisions are avoided, delayed or delegated, resulting in impaired team functioning.
Educate: Train and develop staff in an ongoing incremental process to increase skills among all team members.
Document:Identify the critical factors, assemble the data and listen to feedback to track progress and implement changes in order to achieve your stated goals.
At the same time, don’t you need someone motivating you and driving you on?
You need a purpose driving you on and there are three important factors:
You’ve go to have a dream of the success that all your effort can create.
Second, you’ve got to have a love, someone to share your life with.
Third – and something that many people don’t cultivate – is you’ve got to have a mentor, someone who is experienced enough to guide you and who cares enough about you to bump you along and advocate for you, but who is also honest enough to tell you “that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard you say.”
Many people don’t know how to go look for a mentor. You can’t go out and artificially create a mentoring relationship; you have got to go find someone who matches your personality and has achieved the success you want to achieve, who will go to lunch with you regularly and enjoy it enough to say, “Let me buy you lunch next time.”
What do you do if you don’t have the talent you need to win consistently or are coming into an organization that is dysfunctional? Do you have to say, “We want to build a dynasty and anyone who isn’t up for the effort just has to go?”
Usually, the issue comes down to only a handful of people who don’t have the right attitude. People are on the team because they have talents you need, but you need to change the culture.
When I started with the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1989, there were several key players who had the talent but didn’t have a good attitude. They were too focused on themselves and had developed bad habits and we weren’t winning.
We developed what we called a unity council. I met the players once a week and held each accountable for their actions and pointed out how what they did affected other players and risked the team’s success. We had guys who were immature and doing dumb things like partying all night and not going to classes. I told the starting lineman, “Look, we all depend on you and we need you to be 100 per cent. You can’t go out drinking on Thursday nights.” And we held each player accountable for what others were doing. I never asked, but that guy never went out drinking again on a Thursday night, I can guarantee that. Because of that, we turned everything around. We won every game and we all supported each other because recognized we had something special.
Can that attitude adjustment work just as well in a diverse corporate team?
Yes. All too often in business I hear people saying, “I’m going to work as fast as I can, get mine and get out.” You can turn that selfish attitude around as a leader and it’s not about money, but about appreciation and showing people that the team is counting on them to perform.
You’ve got to set an example as a great leader who cares about them as people and not just as employees. What’s their wife’s name; how are their kids doing? The great leaders care about people as people.
Even if they are in a company that’s medium or small and not destined to be the number one in the world, motivate them to work at being the best performers and having the best year ever.
Money helps, but there is no correlation between more money and overall happiness. I work with a lot of millionaires and I can’t say they’re any happier than I am.
You’ve got to stress the purpose. Do a lot of training, recognize people’s skills, have lunch meetings where you bring people together and create a community. People will respond and put in extra effort because they feel confident and supported.
It’s having a purpose and relationships that will ultimately motivate people to perform at their peak.
This interview has been edited and condensed.