The NFL, like many other industries is susceptible to “conventional wisdom.” Most teams hire coaches and players that fit a certain type. Owners and GM’s, with an eye on the bottom line as well as performance on the field can be risk averse. They’d just as soon hire a proven head coach that was let go from another franchise as take a gamble on a promising college coach or assistant somewhere.
How they select players is no different. The most common theme when teams are drafting or trading for new players is to “find someone who fits our system.” Often that system is a copy of another, more successful team somewhere else in the league. Which brings us to this year’s Super Bowl winner, the Kansas City Chiefs and their MVP quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. In 2017, Kansas City saw an exceptional quarterback who lead the NCAA in passing yards & passing touchdowns. His college team, Texas Tech, would routinely put up numbers more akin to a basketball game than football. The conventional wisdom is that those kinds of numbers were a fluke. It was only part of a “gimmicky” system viable only at the college level – the NFL has rarely had a college quarterback make a successful transition to the professional level and have that kind of success. The Chiefs thought differently. They didn’t see Mr. Mahomes as the next Tom Brady or Drew Brees, they saw him as the next Patrick Mahomes – something the NFL has not seen before. They drafted him 10th in the first round. Nine other teams passed on him.
In 2018, the Chiefs and their Coach Andy Reid then did something that was unthinkable – they built a team and a system around Mr. Mahomes that played to his strengths. He was named the 2018 NFL MVP.
In 2019 he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in 50 years and won – having lead the team to several come-from-behind victories, including 21 unanswered fourth quarter points in the Super Bowl against a very capable team from San Francisco.
In business terms, the Chiefs offense, with Mahomes at the helm, are disruptors to the status quo. Like a new technology, product, or business plan. Other teams are no longer looking for the next Brady, but are looking for the next Mahomes. Companies like Google, Apple, and Tesla often disrupt markets - in spectacular fashion as well.
The Chiefs did two things along the way that has helped make their star shine. First, they hired him. He didn’t fit the mold for quarterbacks common in the NFL, namely playing in an offensive system that most pro-teams use. The Chiefs, however, saw his college performance as an indicator of future performance.
The second thing the Chiefs did to achieve success is build a system and team that would allow him to use his strengths and talents. If he was exceptional in the Texas Tech system, then they would build a system like that. They surrounded him with other players that would let him shine, from a defense that would keep putting the ball back in his hands to receivers that would make the most of every pass.
Companies (both managers and Human Resources) can learn several lessons from the Chiefs:
When recruiting talent, one of the best indicators of future performance is past performance. It does not have to be in the same industry. If a candidate has been successful in high school, college, and one or two industries, chances are they will be successful in yours. Companies should also broaden their criteria on who will be a great candidate – especially in a competitive labor market. The former Marine with four tours in Iraq who just completed a bachelors on the GI bill might be just a great a candidate as the Ivy League Athlete the managers like to hire. The single mom who worked two jobs while going to school at night might be just as hungry for success as that new-grad with a great academic pedigree.
The other lesson companies can learn from is to let their star players play to their strengths. Companies often have defined roles, processes and systems that have made them successful. But they could be missing opportunities – and making their employees miserable. A couple of examples: That outstanding design engineer that was promoted to manager, a skill they were not suited for nor interested in. The lone-wolf outside sales performer forced to come into the office for cold-calling. The customer service rep adept at solving customer problems but chastised for taking too long per call. Companies, and HR can do a better job of recognizing the strengths in their employees, and have them do more of that, instead of focusing on the areas they are not strong in or putting them in roles that do not play to their strengths.
Also important to mention – is the support of coach Andy Reid to make all this happen. Hiring the right managers and letting them lead is a sure route to success.
All of this speaks to the culture of the Kansas City Chiefs – to try new things, set a bold strategy, put resources towards that strategy, follow through and execute. All things that top employees look for in their next company.
Often the addition of a game-changer to your team can mean the difference between your company having a pretty good year and a great one. At the Rivet Group, we focus on identifying the game-changers and connecting them to companies like yours. If you are building your team, we would like to hear from you - let us know how we can help.