What the Seattle Seahawks teach us about building teams

Posted: by HRNasty in Company Culture, What HR Really Thinks

Legion of Boom! Is your team this tight?

Seattle Seahawks and HR lessons learned from the 2015 NFC Championship

Here in Seattle Washington, the entire city is fired up about the NFC Champions, Seattle Seahawks going to SuperBowl XLIX. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t watch too many games this year, but I really enjoyed the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers this past weekend. Yes, it was exciting, yes, it was a nail biter, but for me personally as an HR guy, it was a story of an organization that captures the essence of “Best Place to Work”.

Richard Sherman

Nothing says badass moe foe like flying into the end zone while flexing your muscles and calling attention to your junk, BACKWARDS! Marshawn Lynch doing it with style. 

I have said it before and it was reinforced to me during the Seahawks NFC Championship game. Hire employees that were living your company values BEFORE they were hired, and you have the foundation for a Best Place to Work. Interview and hire your team to succeed in the worst of times and they will stick with the mission when the chips are down. Anyone can hire a team to perform in the best of times when the money is flowing and everyone is in a good mood. Building a team that will perform when the odds are against you, when many would give up, takes chops. The Seahawks have those chops.

Hire for success against adversity within your company culture.

For me, the parallels between the concept of sports teams and departments within corporate America were uncanny. Watching this game, I observed a number of dynamics in action that all corporate managers are striving for with their teams. I saw in the Seahawks the values that every company tries to recruit, nurture and retain within the departments they build. Yes, I am comparing HR with the 2015 NFC Champions – the Seattle Seahawks.

For those not familiar with American Football here is a quick breakdown on last weeks battle and the adversity the team faced:

  • The Seahawks trailed 19 – 7 with 4 minutes remaining and were all but ineffective on offense prior to this point. For many, the game was over (some Seahawks fans actually began to actually leave their HOME STADIUM).
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson threw more interceptions (4) in the first 3 quarters than he had in any other game.
  • Richard Sherman, the All Pro Corner back plays much of the 4th quarter holding one arm pinned to his body due to injury.
  • Earl Thomas, one of the leagues best defensive backs leaves the game with a dislocated shoulder and then returns with a harness to finish the game. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds painful. He is going to tackle 250 lb. men with this shoulder?)

So what did I see in the game that gets me so fired up when thinking about HR building great teams and legendary leadership?

1.  The Seahawks NEVER gave up

The Hawks believed in each other till the very end. With 3 minutes and 19 seconds left in the game, Predictionmachine.com had the Seahawks chance of wining at 1%. After Russell Wilson’s 4th interception, ESPN put the Seahawks probability of LOSING at 97.1%. In other words, ESPN’s software predicted that ninety-seven times out of a hundred, the Seahawks would lose. I doubt the Seahawks looked at this stat, but if they did, I think they would have looked at the number with the glass half full and seen a 3.9% chance of WINNING instead of the 97.1% chance of losing. Instead of throwing in the towel, the team did what they always do, they believed in each other. Faith in each other was able to come naturally for them and because it is not just a “corporate value” for the Seahawks but a value the team looked for and hired when recruiting new players. It is a value the culture nurture’s and protects. One percentage point at a time, the Seahawks believed in themselves and never gave up. One step at a time, they held a belief in each other that they would claw back and they did. This unified team created luck and capitalized on the opportunities presented to them one play at a time. If you are sitting in an office cube and are not able to relate, think, David Horwitz’s newest book; The Hard Thing About Hard Things. When it can’t seem to get worse it does, but you keep fighting. Just a few of the quotes post game from the team reinforcing that the team didn’t give up:

  • “I believed in our offense, I believed in our playmakers and Russ always finds a way”. Richard Sherman (see last years SuperBowl post on Richard Sherman here
  • Jermaine Kearse fumbles 2 passes. Russell Wilson throws an additional two interceptions with Kearse as the intended receiver. Where most armchair quarterbacks would have us passing the ball to a different receiver the rest of the game, Wilson predicts that he would throw the GAME WINNER to Kearse on an audible. Yes, he does just that. Game winning pass to the guy who fumbled twice and was intercepted twice. That my friends, is two brothers believing in each other.
  • “Y’all ain’t gotta believe in us because we believe in ourselves”, Doug Baldwin on fans leaving the game early when the odds were against the Seahawks.
  • Russell Wilson after the game: “I just believed, we all just kept believing in each other and I just believed we were going to make the plays that we needed to make, that somehow we would get it done. I believed we could overcome the turn overs and the mistakes and the adversity”.

2. The right hire for the right company culture.

You can have a Best Place to Work but that doesn’t mean this workplace is the right place for everyone. An asshole will upset the balance created in most Best Places to work but will probably be effective and happy in a culture of fellow assholes. A culture of assholes could also win Best Place to Work if everyone is on board with the mission and the recruiting team is consistent with the hiring practices of looking for assholes.

  • The Seahawks look to word choices of potential draft picks (job candidate) culling those with negative language or finger pointing. They want accountability and optimism. They make a point to hire to this standard and have subtle tests to cull for players that will fit the corporate culture.
  • I love to see the pure Grit of a guy like Richard Sherman playing with the equivalent of one arm. He kept himself in the game and didn’t allow any of the physicians to check out his obvious injury which I can only assume would have sidelined him. After the game he was quoted, “I am 100%. My arm will have to fall off for me to miss the Super Bowl”. Sherman is not a guy that calls in sick at the first sign of a sniffle.
  • Pete Carroll is this HR guy’s wet dream when it comes to CEO’s. In a city with a reputation of some very hotheaded CEO’s, Coach Carroll is the role model. Coach Carroll has a style of encouragement and not laying blame, ever.
  • Carroll gives the individuals on the team the freedom to be themselves. He is on a constant quest to identify and maximize the uniqueness of every player and coach. He is committed to a nurturing environment that allows people to be themselves while still being accountable to the team. Carroll is committed to honoring diversity and respecting individuality.
  • Tom Cable, former hothead coach of the Raiders changed his coaching style after working with Pete Carroll. “If I go ballistic on a guy because he dropped his outside hand or missed an underneath stunt, who is wrong? I am.” Cable says. “I’m attacking his self-confidence and he’s learning that if he screws up, he is going to get yelled at. If you make a mistake here, it’s going to get fixed.” Cable knows  the difference between a boss and a manager.

Yes, it was a great game. It is one that will go down in history books, but for me, it reminded me of why I practice HR and what I love about HR. It inspired me to re-think and raise my game when it comes to building amazing teams and how a cohesive team can make a difference to the bottom line.  I don’t have any Seahawks gear but I will probably go out and buy a Seahawks cap to remember this day of sports and team building greatness. Congrats and thank you Seahawks for inspiring this HR guy.

See you at the Super Bowl,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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Personal Brand

The first step is figuring out what you stand for.

Personal Brand 

Do you have a personal brand? When your name is brought up in personal or professional circles, what are folks saying about you? How does your manager think about you? How are you perceived by your peers? Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have a personal brand and if we want to further our careers, we should develop and strengthen that brand for the better. There is no better time than the beginning of the New Year to think about your personal brand. One way to strengthen your professional game is to have a set of values that directs us individually. This set of “values” can help us ground our professional decision-making process in times of stress when decisions are the most important.

Below is the list of reminders I pull out when going through hard times. Some of the bullets have changed over the years, but a number of them have remained unchanged. They are a reminder for myself and I share these as an example to everyone in hopes we all think about what we want to be known for in our particular disciplines. A few of my colleagues outside of HR have similar lists and I have learned a lot when these lists were shared. I would appreciate you, the reader sharing your favorites in the comments below so we can all be exposed to new ideas.  The following is a list of philosophies I try to keep in mind when making hard decisions. I encourage everyone to conceptualize your personal brand for the new year.

  • My primary job one, P0 (P Zero), oath to the CEO and board is to protect the company and make a return on investment for our investors. As the HR guy, I am not here to look out for individual employees. By protecting the company first, I am looking out for the individual employees. You can protect the company and have a great place to work.
  • Successful HR practitioners understand that they are not going to be able to please all employees all the time. Successful HR practitioners understand that there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with a business decision and solid business decisions will not be made if we worry about individual reactions. With 100 employees in a company, I am not going to make decisions based on the 1 or 2 negative Nellies that speak out the loudest. I need to coach them to productive feedback or help them find a better fitting corporate culture. Decisions need to be made for the long-term good of the company goals and not the 2 squeaky wheels. In the immortal words of Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”.
  • As an HR practitioner, all I have is trust. As soon as I lose the employees trust, my value as an HR professional is worthless. HR always asks for trust, but we need to give reasons to be trusted. Transparency is a good first step to earning trust. Helping employees further their careers, make more money, land a new opportunity or promotion is a good step to earning trust.
  • I am going to make it HR’s responsibility to over communicate company decisions to the departments and the company. I want the message to be heard by employees 3 different times, three different ways. Employees may not care for a company decision from a personal standpoint, but my goal is to deliver an understanding so that there is at least professional RESPECT for the decision from a company perspective. When an employee is bitter about a company decision, it is usually a lack of understanding around how the decision was made. It is because the employee didn’t get the opportunity to hear the reasoning behind why the decision was made. At the executive level, big company decisions are hashed, debated and marinated for days, weeks, and maybe even months. Sr. leaders had a voice in the decision and the opportunity to present alternatives. Ideas were vetted against many other ideas and options. Individual employees are not afforded this luxury of visibility or exposure to the problems being solved over time. They may not understand a decision in a 2 minute announcement or a 300-word email. This is why the over communication of company decisions is so important.
  • Make sure that employees are paid on time and accurately. When in doubt, be pro-active and clear up individual questions around employee salaries. Employees work for a paycheck. Apologies from accounting or HR won’t pay the bills.
  • I believe that individually, we alone are ultimately responsible for our own careers / destiny. Despite the manager, despite the VP, despite the dick headed co-worker that is making our lives miserable, it is up to me to take responsibility and actions for my own career. It is not my manager’s responsibility to make sure that I have a successful career. In my experience too many employees believe their managers and the manager alone controls the individual employees career. As an HR Pro/Am, I can influence this mentality held by so many employees.  
  • If we could put a man on the moon in the 60’s with 64 kilobytes of memory, then in today’s age where we can buy terra bytes of storage off the shelf for PERSONAL use, we can do anything. It may take more time, more resources, or more people, but we can do anything. The word “can’t” should not exist.
  • If an employee wants to tell me something in confidence, then I need to let them know up front that if an employee or the company is at risk, I will need to involve others. I should coach and counsel, but allowing the company or an employee to be at risk is not an option. Hearing something in confidence and then running to the CEO without employee permission is weak.
  • On hiring: No assholes. Doesn’t matter how smart they are, no assholes.
  • On culture: Culture is not Ping-Pong tables or beer Fridays. Culture cannot be turned up or down with “more or less toys or activities”. Regardless of the values, effective corporate cultures will happen when the workforce is engaged and believes the leaders vision and values. A company can make a “Great place to work” list and still have a corporate culture that will work for some and WILL NOT WORK FOR OTHERS. As individuals, we need to find a company that has a corporate culture and the products that we can believe in. When the employees believe in the leadership team and the vision, the culture of the company can move the company forward. When the employees don’t care about the leadership values or the vision, the company culture can put the company in a downward spiral.  
  • Culture works when hiring is consistent with the values of the company. Bringing on someone who wants to wear shorts and flip-flops to a suit and tie culture is not going to work. Bringing on a really smart asshole to a No Asshole culture is not going to work. Bringing an asshole to an asshole culture CAN work. No employee is for every company and not every company is for every employee. Culture can start with the job description by attracting and weeding out specific behavior. Culture is reinforced during the interview and on boarding of a candidate turned new hire. Culture works when management and HR work together to reinforce the values. Letting behavior counter productive to the culture go un-checked is what causes apathy to those reinforcing the culture.
  • Being successful in HR means being able to hold the respect of the team while executing on hard and harder painful business decisions. Any monkey can give a raise. Any monkey can hold respect on the easy and obvious decisions. The 800 lb. gorillas can conduct layoffs and make sure that everyone is treated with dignity and will assist, counsel and coach those looking for their next gig. 
  • Successful HR practitioners can appreciate and articulate that everyone will enter the building with a different background and these personal experiences will affect their perception and interpretation of the work environment in different ways. When unsure of what to do, giving the benefit of doubt is a good thing. Every new employee joined the company excited and eager to make a fresh start. If this attitude changed, then something is behind that change. Employees don’t wake up one morning and just decide to be assholes at work.  

And my all time favorite:

It is better to keep ones’ mouth shut and let everyone think you are a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.

Let me know what philosophies ground you in your day-to-day practice. The exercise of putting our beliefs down on paper will make anyone stronger by forcing us to think about how we go about and articulate our day-to-day lives.

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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