The 2021 Super Bowl is around the corner and everyone is talking sports. As always, one of the annual debates is whether it's offense or defense that wins championships -- although with gunners like Brady and Mahomes playing, perhaps this year it becomes more of an obvious shootout. The contest feels like it will be all about how many touchdowns will be enough to win rather than who's better at keeping the other guys from scoring.
But when time expires and the winner of Super Bowl LV is determined, one of the very clear lessons from the NFL's journey is that, while sheer talent certainly still plays a huge part in determining the outcome, what really mattered for many of the teams this season was a) the simple good or bad luck of how severely and at what point in the year they were hit by the virus and b) how they reacted to their situations. They basically played a game once a week trying their best to win and played defense the rest of the time trying to hold their teams together and make it to Sunday.
The key to success was how smartly, quickly, and successfully each team's management maneuvered around the uncertainties, reacted and adapted to the day-to-day changes in schedules, player availabilities, and test results, and how they kept everyone focused on the ultimate goal even though what really mattered in the moment was the next game. It's always about focus. As the great marathoner Emma Bates always said: "Nothing else matters but the mile you're running right now."
These Super Bowl conversations got me thinking about the exact same question in terms of how companies are going to handle the post-pandemic rebuilding of their teams. What comes first? Shooters or savers? Stepping up sales, safety and security, saving scarce funds, shrinking your space, or some combination of the above? Do you try to quickly rebuild your revenue -- that is, play offense and grow market share? Or, do you focus on preserving and protecting your bottom line, so you don't run out of cash, which I'd call playing defense? One thing's for sure--you can't really do everything at the same time and, if you spread yourself too thin, you may end up with nothing. You've got to choose and then put the bulk of the wood behind one arrowhead.
I've noted how careful you have to be in deciding which of your employees to fire or furlough during the depths of the disease and also about whom you needed to bring back first to reconnect and reassure your customers that you are back in business for good. But this is a different question. Where you put the early emphasis and how you allocate your time and resources will set the company's course and determine the future success of the business. There won't be any do-overs or second chances.
Here's the hard question for today. Are the sincere, loyal, and committed people who helped keep the ship afloat during the toughest of times the right ones you'll need now to move things forward? It's very likely that the employees who got you here aren't the absolutely essential keepers or the new runners and gunners you'll need to restart and grow the business. You probably can't afford to keep them all or -- better stated -- to keep them all happy in terms of compensation, ownership, responsibility, competitive offers, etc., so you're going to need to make some hard choices.
And sadly, because life still isn't fair, you can't let emotion or history dictate your decisions. Loyalty can easily lead you astray. But if the whole business depends on the slightly surly but smart as hell CTO whom you absolutely can't afford to lose, then maybe Bob in HR who had to fire a hundred people and furlough dozens more or Polly in finance who watched every penny when it mattered most are the ones who need to move on. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but some people are relatively easy to replace and others are indispensable, and you've got to make those calls. You still need to cover the functions, but we've all come to realize that maybe you don't need all the folks.
And, worse yet, while you're pinching pennies with your long-time and nearest and dearest team members (and begging some of them to stay even when you're pretty sure that you wouldn't stick around in the same circumstances), you're going to have to go out and hire some new, expensive, and unknown players to lead the charge over the next hill or two.
For the next six months or so, it's not even a close question. Sales are going to be everything. And the best salespeople are selfish, arrogant, and not exactly the folks you'd want to take home to meet the family. They may not be dreamy or delightful, but they deliver. That's the nature of their jobs. It's the reason you hire them. The ones who do it best take no prisoners.
It's a definite risk to your company's culture to bring in some hired guns and to pay them princely sums as well, but the alternative approach is likely to cause your own board and investors to wonder if you've got what it takes to make the tough decisions. And -- if you dawdle too long and try to get by with the team you've got -- you'll likely end up cratering the company.
The luckiest owners and managers in sports are the ones who find a guy like Tom Brady who's the whole package. Not just a great jock, but a team leader and a culture builder from the get-go. It's the same deal in any startup or start-over--great leaders set the tone, model the behaviors it takes to win, invite the whole team to join the journey, and work harder and longer than anyone else to make their visions into realities.
In the end, you can be like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (going for the gold with Brady) or like the cheapskate Chicago Bears (trying to get by with Mitch Trubisky). But you can't be both.