Mike Forde’s Fire Yourself Friday: Communicating Progress During a Franchise Rebuild

In presentations I’ve given on leading and inspiring talent, I often ask the audience a question:

If you fired yourself on Friday, packed your belongings into a cardboard box, and went home for the weekend to muse on the impact you were having on your role, your company, your colleagues and your customers, and then re-employed yourself on Monday, what would you change?

The spirit of this weekly email is to help with the reflection process involved in that hypothetical scenario. Hopefully some of the themes and content shared can be of value when it comes to musing over the future and the impact you can make on the world.

Communicating the phases of change during an organizational evolution (or revolution) is a combination of art and science. Nowhere is this more obvious that in a rebuild/reboot of a professional sports franchise.

Each major sports team and league is tied to the same problem: how do we effectively plot, lead, and manage change to achieve a paradigm shift in team success? In each of the major four sports in the US, around 4-5 teams per league change their senior leaders every season. Each change brings new hope but delayed gratification with respect to results and the sense of accomplishment that every ownership group wants to feel.

For owners and executives alike, the perennial question is how to assess and measure change and progress. Every owner – especially those with deep pockets and an acute focus on winning – will try and microwave the process and seek metrics that support their appetite for immediate success. Executives, who often have a truer understanding of the steps required to fulfil the vision, will play the long game and plan for a ‘hockey stick’ uplift in performance within three years of their arrival. The end result is usually a compromise between the respective goals of the two parties.

However, under the pressure of media scrutiny, fan attention, and the commercial reality of driving growth, the agreed timeline can be compromised under the stress of fluctuating results. I often think of the analogy of the gardener who plants the young sapling in the ground knowing that it takes three years to grow and blossom. Impatient and frustrated, after 18 months they pull up the tree to make sure it’s still growing. Their impatience kills the growth project instantly. We regularly see the same mistake made by team owners across all sports on an annual basis. They agree a plan with the GM and step back to ‘trust the process’, but when limited growth occurs or there is a lack of clarity around what ‘growth’ really means, then they pull up the tree and the GM or head coach is gone. Every owner believes they are doing the right thing, but I’d argue that in 80% of the cases the front office executives have failed to educate the owner on the plan in a way that makes them more likely to stay the course.

As teams approach the end of their season, or even critical moments in their existing campaign, it’s always wise for owners and front offices to be proactive in their communication and ask three key questions:

  1. Where are we on the road to our agreed goals?
  2. Has anything changed that we need to factor in that could affect the timing and execution of our plan?
  3. What does success look like and have the goalposts moved on the journey towards success?

At Sportsology, too often we experience cases where we sit with owners days after they have ‘pulled up the tree’ and, as we reflect on the process that led to the decision, can see so many moments where proactive watering, weed killing and nurturing could have made such a positive difference for all involved.

The key lesson: get in front of potential problems and strategically map out the cadence of communications you need to stay one step ahead of the impact of results and change.

Mike Forde is Executive Chairman of Sportsology

Image: Tuan Nguyen Minh/Unsplash

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