Your Record

Bill Parcells is a name that every football fan should know. His nickname is the “Big Tuna”. I have no idea how he got that name but it has to be one of the best nicknames ever. He is also thought of as one of the great football coaches of recent times. He has won Super Bowls. He has turned around or built dynasties out of several football teams. In short, he seems to be a pretty good leader who has a record of demonstrated success over an extended period of time. Like many sports managers, coaches and personalities he is also the source of several great quotes.  

At one point in his career he had been brought in to a franchise that had been suffering through a period of extended poor performance. They were a once proud franchise that had been going through and extended period of losing records. He started the process of making changes. He made the incremental changes associated with how the team trained, and how the coaches coached. This was expected. He also started making changes in personnel on the team. This was also expected but to a much lesser extent.

The quarterback is arguably the most important leadership position on the team. The quarterback for the team was an established star who had been in the league for several years. He had been a high draft choice coming out of college and had been traded for by the previous coaching regime. He had a strong arm and could make all the throws. He had been around and knew how to read defenses. His only weakness was that he was not the most mobile of quarterbacks. The television announcers occasionally likened his mobility to that of “statuary”. Defenses knew this and attacked him accordingly.

In the first year of Parcells tenure with this team, things started to improve. The team started to win more games, but still ended up with a losing record. After the season the press was interviewing the quarterback. He stated that he had achieved many of his goals and then uttered the most favored statement of teams with losing records:

“We are better than our record showed.”

Then it came time for the press to interview Parcells. They asked him what he thought of his quarterback’s statement that they were better than their losing record would indicate. It was his turn to utter an immortal phrase. He said that the team was NOT better than its losing record would indicate. The team had a losing record and that showed how good they were. They were a losing team. If they were a better team they would have won more games and the record would show that.

He said that a team is as good as its record. Nothing else mattered.

As the team leader Parcells sent the message to his team. If the team goals were not met, no equivocation would be accepted. No “achieved” reviews would be ratings would be provided to the on field leader of a losing team. The team did not win enough games. Its performance and hence the performance of its on field leader did not meet expectations. He was very direct and honest with his rating of “needs improvement”.

I am a big believer in data, metrics and records. Like Parcells said, you are as good as your record. If the data and the metrics show that you did not achieve your goals, then you didn’t. If you are the leader of the team then your judgment and your example matters. If you indicate that you are willing to disregard the team’s record and actual performance when it comes time to assess your individual leader’s performance, then you are communicating that you do not hold yourself or them accountable for the performance.

While there are several aspects of leadership that can be considered qualitative, the record of the performance of the business is not one of them. Like the won – loss record of a football team, it is numeric. It is a metric. It is data. Individual accolades and measurements are good, but if you are the leader of the team and the team did not achieve its goals then there is an issue.

The following year the star quarterback was replaced. Despite his individual performance being good, he was not able to elevate and lead the rest of the team to a better team performance. It seemed that Parcells decided he needed someone that could lead and elevate the performance of the entire team, and not be so judgmental on his own individual performance.

I have stated in the past that performance rating criteria need to be commensurate with the ability of the individual to affect the performance that they are rated on. An offensive lineman cannot directly affect the teams won – loss record other than his individual performance on how well he blocks or how many times he allows the quarterback to get sacked. If he is a great individual lineman who does his job, blocks well and protects the quarterback then he has met or exceeded his goals for performance, almost regardless of what the team’s record would indicate. The quarterback is however the on field leader. He touches the ball on just about every play. If he has a great year completing passes, but the team continues to lose is he a great quarterback? Like it or not, as the on-field team leader he will have to shoulder the majority of the responsibility for the teams record. It goes with the position.

The individual metrics would indicate that he is a good player. The team performance would indicate that he is not a good leader. When the quarterback in question seemed to put his own performance above that of the team, it appeared that coach Parcells decided he was not the on-field leader that he needed. When the quarterback said they were better than the record indicated, it could be construed as he was saying he was better than the record indicated.

I appreciate what the Big Tuna said and did. He made the incremental changes needed in the way the team practiced and prepared for a game, but he also made the personnel changes both in his leadership positions as well as the other team positions that were required for both a winning culture and a team culture approach to performance. The team in question continued to improve and did reach the playoffs quickly after he instituted these changes.

And as Parcells noted, they continued to be as good as their record indicated.

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