Success May be Just an HOV Lane Away

Roger Staubach was the featured speaker at a university sports luncheon I attended recently.  He is more than just a Heisman Trophy/all pro ex-jock.  Staubach  heads a highly successful national commercial real estate business.  In his remarks he described two football teams he played on that had both been at pivotal points in their respective seasons.  One team was at the Naval Academy and the other was when he was with the Dallas Cowboys.  Both turned out to be championship teams, but neither season started out that way.  Apparently, too many players were approaching the season as though it was all about them personally, and the team was secondary.  The teams had a lot of talent but it was not a “one for all” environment.

How many times do we see this in business?  In striving for excellence, individuals focus on their own success and do little or nothing to improve the team or teamwork.  The view can often be that a branch’s monthly production volume may be “interesting” but how everyone else is doing, from producers to support staff, is not my concern.  I celebrate my own success.

Staubach went on to say that after the poor initial start to the season, some of the leaders got the team together to have a real heart-to-heart.  We can imagine the frank locker room conversations that probably took place.  I doubt it was a Knute Rockne “let’s win one for the Gipper” speech.  They demanded renewed thinking about the team, teamwork and team-focused effort.

Staubach’s message was that football, like business, is a team activity and everyone must be with and on the team.  He said it was just like entering the HOV lane on the expressway: every car needs passengers.  When someone is going it alone or is in it for just himself or herself, even a team with abundant individual talent can’t win.  We have to get everyone on board and take them along for the ride, just like in the HOV lane, so everyone gets to the destination.  He also meant that if people are not prepared to execute as required and ready to maximize each individual’s performance, then we need to grab them and bring them along.

Getting people involved and taking them along for the journey helps create the spirit of teamwork necessary to turn what could be mediocre performances into unforgettable ones. As we think about this simple HOV analogy, there are at least five possible actions that come to mind.  It starts with managers and concludes with the idea of raising the bar.

Start with Managers: It should be logical that managers or leaders need to first recognize the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone is on board with a clear understanding of the game plan.  Every once in a while the leadership must take an assessment of how well things are working.  From time to time we need to ask the questions about what is working and what is not, and take an objective look around.  At times we all forget the interdependency that exists within a mortgage branch or sales team and the connection to other parts of the company that support them.

This interdependency must be clearly recognized and understood.  Clear expectations must be set for behavior and results.  The leadership must continually work on resolving issues or removing barriers that get in the way of allowing everyone to be prepared and be able to do the best they can.

Stars are Included: It should also be reasonable that everyone must understand the vision, plan, and direction, and be an active and proactive part of it.  This means everyone, including the star performers.  Most superstars are good because they understand the importance of working with others.  They may want to “over-control” because they want nothing to go wrong.  In time we hope they learn that they can do even better when they help train the team and set clear expectations for others to focus on their own key roles and become freed-up to be even more successful.

But, there may be some superstars that can’t or won’t get this important message.  If they are disruptive to the team and limit the ability of the whole team to be successful, then management and leadership needs to make a decision.  Sometimes it is better to take a step backward in order to leap forward.

Identify Weak Spots: Everyone on the team is important.  Everyone’s role is there for a reason.  If that is not the case the position is not necessary.  You cannot afford to have anyone on the team streaming down their own personal HOV lane oblivious to what is going on around them and what is required.  Managers, leaders, and superstars need to identify every area requiring improvement and focus on fixing it.

This does not have to be a negative or disruptively critical exercise.  But, it must be focused and must be done.  This is not a “hey you, stop screwing up” message, but when you see someone struggling or someone not using a “best practice,” you need to help them get better or change the process.

The focus is to not allow poor performance or poor practices to persist, simply because it is “not directly my job” or you are “too busy with my own stuff.”  Take the time to explain thoroughly how to make things better or right, and have learning sessions where the A-players are coaching others how to do the job better.  We also need to set the right expectations so that everyone has a clear understanding of the performance level required.

Changes May be Necessary: Sometimes people have to leave for the good of the whole. There are predominantly two reasons for change.  The easiest to understand is when the employee either can’t or won’t do the job properly.  It may be skills, motivation, or personal issues, but if after training, support, and expectations have been clearly communicated the performance doesn’t measure up, then a change is necessary.

The other reason for change, which can be difficult, is when the person performs well but their approach or style is divisive and disruptive.   Some people are too negative and so self-interested that they adversely impact the team and teamwork.  It takes too much management time to the detriment of others.  When this occurs, sometimes the only solution is to make a change.  It may seem like a step back because of the individual’s performance, but results after the change is made are often surprising.  Others on the team usually blossom and the overall team results improve substantially.

When the team really starts functioning as it should, it is time to raise the bar and set expectations higher.  Chances are pretty good that until we really start getting into the HOV lane we do not know how good we can be.  Once we have identified weaknesses, both with processes and people, and energized everyone to make changes and have the patience to wrap their arms around the people who need support, the effect on the team and overall results can be 25 to 50 percent, maybe even 100 percent.  The power of a team committed to teamwork and excellence is a substantial force.