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How the NFL Patriots Creates a Dynasty – Led by Great Managers and a G.O.A.T

Building a Winning Management Team like the Patriots
Lionseye insights from AC Lion

How do you take an under-performing team and turn them into a dynasty? How do you make sure you have the right players and personnel to build that long-term powerhouse?

Robert Kraft bought the NFL’s New England Patriots in 1994 and spent the next six years looking for a football executive he could work with to develop long-term success. He had inherited Bill Parcells, a hall-of-fame coach and proven Super Bowl winner. However, Kraft was looking for a coach with long-term vision, while Parcells, at the end of his storied career, was looking for single season successes.

In 2000, Kraft hired Bill Belichick. Over the ensuing 19 seasons, a team which had never won a Super Bowl before became the envy of the league. The Patriots won five Super Bowls and eight AFC Championships. They haven’t had a losing season since 2000 and have won their division a remarkable 15 times.

At the core of their success is the relationship between Belichick and Kraft. Kraft was a patient owner, who believed long-term success came from player development and understanding player economics in a salary-cap environment. In Belichick, he found a coach who was willing to spend less money on players who fit within his system and bring in personnel who mirrored his team-first approach.

Like NFL teams, businesses have recognized the value of the right decisions in talent acquisition. Taboola, a content discovery platform, made a strategic series of hires when they entered the US market, and today they are a recognized leader in their industry.

In contrast, Beepi, a peer-to-peer used car marketplace, brought in a management team that burnt through $147M in Venture Capital funding. TechCrunch reported that the company was “run with the wrong priorities.” After three years of operations, Beepi was shut down and was sold for parts to satisfy creditors.

Quite simply, bad hires poison businesses. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappo, told Business Insider that the cost of his bad hires, and the poor decisions those hires subsequently made, exceeded $100M. For startups building their initial management teams, talent acquisition can be the difference between appearing as a footnote in a VC slide deck and ringing the opening bell one glorious morning at NASDAQ.

So how did they do it? How did Robert Kraft create a dynasty? Here are five lessons from the Patriots Playbook to help you build your powerhouse.

Playbook #1: Finely-Honed Strategy

For Kraft and Belichick, becoming a winner meant having effective on-field leadership. The Patriots success began with the selection of Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Though he was the 199th player chosen that year, the Patriots had done their research, and found an overlooked talent who is now considered one of the best to ever play the game.

For businesses that have moved beyond Series A and B rounds of funding, finding their top on-field talent needs to be their top priority. However, with today’s tight job market, finding the right candidate who can mesh with your company’s culture isn’t easy.

The research firm CB Insights found that 23% of failed startups fell apart because they had the wrong team in place. These were startups that had moved beyond the initial proof-of-concept phase and had received millions of dollars in VC capital.

Putting together a team that can succeed in both the short- and long-term requires a finely honed strategy, definitive processes, and the time needed to bring it all together.

Playbook #2: Understanding your Key Needs

The Patriots success began with understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and the salary cap. The organization typically shies away from expensive, big name players. They prefer to find the kinds of people who can fill a need and fit into the culture the team has developed.

Making a flashy hire may look good on paper, or make the company look more attractive, but if the company’s need is different from that person’s skill set, it could be a mistake. Additionally a flashy high priced hire may not be needed at all if you can find someone who can fix the problem you identified or can play the niche role that is critical to your business’s needs. Developing a comprehensive executive hiring strategy can help protect your organization from bringing in a train wreck that destroys your business from within.

While it seems overly simplistic, your organizational chart is the human bedrock of your organization. Understanding roles and who reports to whom, as well as what the expectations are for each role defines the needs and skill sets of various positions.

Is it time to bring on a CMO? If you’re still two years away from your product launch and your resources are going to be better spent on product development talent. Your strategy encompasses your understanding of what you need today, as well as what you’re going to need 12 months down the road.

Geography factors in as well. Should you hire candidates in New York? Or will you rely on programmers based in Silicon Valley? Those strategic decisions impact both where you are hiring from, and where you’ll ultimately open your office.

Cost always plays a role. In a tight job market, coveted employees cost a lot. Can you entice a rising star from Google or Amazon with a lower salary but higher equity? Do you need to wait until the next round of funding to bring in that CEO rock star you’re coveting? Or can you find the next Tom Brady, that 199th draft pick, for your company?

Playbook #3: Well Defined Process

The Patriot Way is part culture, part process. Former player Kevin Faulk defined it as winning, but it goes beyond what happens on the field. It is a definition of roles and finding the right people to perform in those capacities.

For a high-flying startup flush with millions of dollars in VC, brand positioning and job description documents may seem trivial, but they sit at the heart of the hiring process. It’s your vision—on paper. You’re defining what your next ‘player’ needs to bring to the team. If you need someone to catch Tom Brady’s passes is it better to bring a fast, athletic wide receiver who can spread the field like Randy Moss, a gritty receiver who can dominate the Slot like Julian Edelman, or a tight end who requires multiple defenders to cover and can block like Rob Gronkowski?

Definitive processes help protect you from bringing in the wrong people into your organization, as they clearly define your needs. They also allow for scalable hiring, as the process can be repeated while the organization grows.

Your process begins with a scorecard, which includes the mission statement, the key responsibilities and stats (competencies), and the key KPIs and evaluating criteria for success for the role. Once you understand why you are hiring for a specific role you won’t make the mistake of hiring a CMO with B2C experience if your true need is to bring in a B2B focused marketer.

Hiring is a group process—who are your scouts and coaches helping you make the best decisions? Define who is involved in hiring, and who makes the final decision on a candidate. As you develop consistent processes that you trust, you’ll shield yourself from making mistakes on people who don’t fit the right mold.

Playbook #4: Time Management

To maintain the team’s level of success, Belichick takes a deep dive into draft preparation and player personnel. He spends February through August focused on bringing in the right mix of people he needs for the team to continue their success and he continues tweaking his roster throughout the year. No job is safe if you are not doing your job!

That time commitment is not exclusive to building football teams. In fact, the most surprising aspect of hiring is the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate toward finding the right candidate. Rob Hayes, First Round Partner, says “If you’re not spending at least 50% of your time hiring—and that’s the minimum—you’re already on the road to failure.”

In fact, most founders should expect to spend almost 90% of their time looking for talent capable of turning their concept into a viable business. With today’s job market sitting at 3% unemployment, chances are the candidate you want is already working for someone else.

Grabbing the attention of talented, successful individuals who are happy, and getting them to leave takes a considerable effort focused around demonstrating your company’s value, strategy, positioning and potential. This takes not just time but careful brand positioning and honesty about what your company is (and what it isn’t).

Playbook #5: Minimizing Mistakes

Before Belichick and Kraft made history in New England, there was Belichick and Art Modell in Cleveland. Belichick’s Browns lost more games than they had won, and only made the playoffs once in his five seasons there.

The failed Modell-Belichick relationship contrasted sharply from the success in New England. For one, Modell was looking for short-term success, and brought in high-priced, poor performers. The two were never on the same page and often clashed, which ultimately led to Belichick’s firing from Cleveland.

Startups will also experience some missteps along the way. As a founder, you began this company to bring your vision to life, not to become an expert in the finer points of human resources and talent acquisition.

However, the key to building your successful company is to minimize the missteps at the early stages, so that the team you put in place will have the talent to make your team rise.

You can’t expect to win the super bowl every year, but you want to make sure you are fielding a competitive team and giving your best effort every time you take the field.

Discover how the experts at AC Lion, with a 20-year record of delivering success, can help you develop the strategy and processes you’ll need to build a championship team.

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Mike Adler

As Senior Managing Partner at AC Lion and Partner in LionseyeGroup, Michael brings over 20 years of experience in working with high-growth companies. Michael Co-manages a 30+ person team dedicated to providing top level service to companies who are looking to secure key executives in the path to monetization.