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Why HR Should Love the New England Patriots

January 11, 2008
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
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In case you missed it, the Patriots did just enough at the end of the NFL season to get past the Giants and become the first pro football team in history to go 16-0, then followed it up with wins over Jacksonville and San Diego to earn a spot in Super Bowl XLII. You can hate them, as many NFL fans do. You can’t deny their success.

    Here’s another thing Patriots haters can’t deny: The Patriots have the strongest "team first" culture in all of professional sports. These aren’t the Yankees or the Red Sox, writing big checks to ensure they have the best talent in the league. No, this is the NFL, with a hard salary cap. That means that on a year-to-year basis, around 30 percent of the Patriots’ roster turns over, and they have to go find more talent. Just like you.

    That’s right: The Patriots are one of the biggest employment brands in professional sports, and they have 30 percent turnover. That’s what a hard salary cap does to an organization. Just like in your business, when you decide not to match that stellar offer an employee has to work elsewhere, the Patriots have to decide the best way to dole out their fixed payroll. That means a lot of players shuffle in and out on an annual basis.

    But the team-first culture of the Patriots survives. Why?

    The easy answer is the presence of a megastar like quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots are incredibly fortunate to have a player like Brady in that key role, and he is the poster child for world-class performance laced with humility. The guy has never missed a chance in interviews to talk about his teammates or to deflect praise to the organization.

    But the easy answer doesn’t satisfy the probing mind. Lots of teams have stars, but no pro sports franchise in recent history has enjoyed such a sustained run of success with "team as the theme."

    Here is my take on four critical components driving the strength of the team culture in New England and the squad’s sustained success:

  1. The Patriots believe in behavioral interviews with an emphasis on "motivational fit." OK, I’ll admit I have no clue if the Patriots actually use behavioral interviewing. But the Patriots seem to understand the need to match players with the philosophy of their organization. Where else could average talents like Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Kevin Faulk have such a huge impact across three world championship teams? This talent core performs on the field, but more important, it epitomizes the team concept and leads in the locker room, where dissension usually begins—just like the break room or hallways at your company. I can almost hear coach Bill Belichick asking prospective draft choices or free agents, "Tell me about a time that you were most satisfied with your college career," then listening for the themes of "we" and "me" to decide if they are a fit.

  2. The Patriots have the ability to assimilate stars into their culture. It’s good to have average talent that is dedicated to the cause, but you need rainmakers to win it all. With that in mind, I have two words for you: Randy Moss.Not familiar with Moss? He’s the guy who did a simulated "mooning" of the Green Bay crowd after a playoff touchdown for the Vikings a few years ago. Widely seen as a "me first" cancer on a team, he joined the Patriots this season and set the single-season touchdown record for a wide receiver. More important, he’s been performing with ZERO controversy, outlandishness, etc. Without exception, the Patriots are the best in the league at assimilating talent into their cultural system. My take is that it goes beyond initial onboarding, and that the team approach is re-emphasized at every turn. Part of the talent selection process is undoubtedly selecting role players (like Vrabel and Bruschi) who are vocal and will pressure fringe stars like Moss back to the "team first" theme when they stray.

  3. Managerial talent focused on results, not media hype or controversy. All organizations look to their leaders to set the tempo. In a sports landscape littered with the narcissistic images of Jerry Jones (owner of the Cowboys), Bill Parcells (now VP of football operations for the Dolphins) and Brian Billick (ex-Ravens coach), players expect competition for the cameras from their owners/management. Not so with the Patriots. You rarely see an interview with Robert Kraft (owner of the Patriots), and watching a press conference with Belichick is like having a toenail removed. Their focus on results, the next opponent and the team culture reinforces the message throughout the organization. And players fall in line.

  4. The team theme rules, even when the system promotes stars. I’m from Missouri, which means I’m a St. Louis Rams fan. A few years ago, the Rams were hot and won the Super Bowl with the greatest show on turf (lots of passing and individual stars: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, etc.). The next year they faced an upstart, underdog Patriots team in the early stages of the culture the Patriots have built. The game was getting ready to start, and I was watching the player introductions. The Rams went first, introducing the individual starters for their incredible offense one at a time. Next up, the Patriots started their introductions, and instead of shining the lights on their individual players for a little recognition and glory, they came out as a team and ran through the tunnel together.

    I thought to myself, "That felt different."

    Game over: The Patriots upset the Rams in the Super Bowl and it was the start of the New England dynasty. The Patriots still come out as a team to this day.

    Love them or hate them, the Patriots are different. Not different like the Yankees, but different like in Jerry Maguire,when Jerry hugs Rod Tidwell in the tunnel after his breakout game. You watch that scene and you wish your workplace could be like that. A sense of team, and of purpose, all while still getting great results.

    Here’s hoping you and I get a chance to build that kind of culture in our careers.

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