Strategy & the Sport of Business– February 25, 2016 by Jim Boland

The Cleveland Browns recently shocked the sports world by hiring Paul DePodesta to be the team’s chief strategy officer. Paul’s background and resume are impressive, but his lack of any NFL experience left people scratching their heads. Time will tell if the hire and the associated analytics-based strategy will work, but it’s great the Browns are taking an innovative approach. Recent interviews with DePodesta on sports radio sound more like sounds bites from a Fortune 500 boardroom than your typical football executive:

  • “When you look at great organizations…they do something that separates them from the competition. Usually that ‘something’ is a process or set of systems that differentiates them.”
  • “One of the things that is really important is…that shared vision. I can’t overstate the importance of that. When you have a shared vision it really can help dictate a lot of your decisions. If we start making decisions that are not aligned with that shared vision then that is a real problem.”
  • “What are we doing to maximize our decision making to maximize the performance of the individual players?”

Browns new General Manager, Sashi Brown, is on board with these concepts, commenting on DePodesta joining the Browns:

“Paul’s strength to us was the ability to think about, build and execute on putting together a championship-caliber organization. That’s our goal here. He’s been successful at it. He understands people; he understands processes; he understands standards and accountability.”

Not much of your typical football strategy in these comments, but it is chalk full of leading practices that you would find in any good business management book. An interesting approach for a football organization.

So what is there to learn by this seemingly innovative leadership move?

These management practices are tried and true in the sport of business. Any business can take steps toward building a championship-caliber organization by focusing on three things:

  • Develop a strategic plan for your business. Invest the time to get your key leaders out of the day-to-day and think about the future. Discuss and align on these questions:
    • What are our objectives for the business, and what values will we follow to deliver that vision?
    • What markets will we compete in and what do customers value in each of those markets?
    • How are our internal capabilities positioned to deliver on what our customers value?
  • Map out your key business activities. Define what processes and systems drive value in your business, and invest in developing advanced capabilities in the highest-value areas.
  • Structure performance measures that recognize and reward desired behaviors. Connect department and individuals’ objectives to value-creating metrics. Drive accountability. Track progress of those metrics with management to remove obstacles and incent good results.

You don’t need a chief strategy officer on your team to improve your business. Think about these ideas and find a way to start introducing them into your leadership approach. An aligned, higher-performing team is worth the effort.

Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts and circumstances.