It’s football season here in the US.
I’m born and raised in Wisconsin so that means that from birth I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan.
It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time if that makes any sense.
Earlier this year I saw a stat somewhere talking about how the Packers were built as a team.
The stat was something like…of the 53 players on the roster only about 3 have ever played a regular season snap for another team.
Isn’t that crazy?
It’s just the way the Packers have built their team over the years. It’s really the way they’ve built the team since General Manager Ron Wolf took over in 1992.
And it’s not just the players on the field that are homegrown. The staff is homegrown. Head Coach Mike McCarthy was first with the team as a quarterbacks coach in 1999 before coming back as head coach in 2006. There has been very little turnover on his coaching staff with coaches getting moved up the rankings when other coaches leave the ranks.
And it’s the same in the scouting department. That staff has been homegrown since Ron Wolf came in. Current GM, Ted Thompson, has been at the helm since 2005. He had been with the Packers all the way back in 1992 before leaving to work for Seattle for a short time.
A recent scouting addition was even a former player.
Building From Within
The Packers definitely build from within. Many successful NFL teams operate the same way. The majority of players are drafted into the system. Same with the coaches and scouting departments.
The Packers and the Patriots are currently the teams that have made the playoffs for the most consecutive seasons (7). The Patriots are similar to the Packers. They bring in a few outsiders to the roster each year, but still very much build from within.
So what’s the deal with building from within?
I first read Good To Great a few years ago. It was my first introduction to Jim Collins and his research. Since then I’ve read his other books on successful businesses and organizations.
One of the themes throughout his research was that successful organizations build from within.
That goes against a belief that some have, which is that businesses often need new blood with fresh ideas in order to revitalize and grow companies.
But Jim Collins repeatedly found the opposite to be true. New leaders might inject some short-term growth into companies, but the truly successful companies often hired from within.
The best organizations are founded on common values and goals. These values or core principles or whatever you want to call them become ingrained in those that work for the company.
Only those that have been with the company for a long time fully understand what the company stands for and what the goals can be for the future.
Startups, Growth & Hiring
When you’re a startup it’s not very easy to hire from within because everyone will be new. There just won’t be enough people to hire from within as you grow.
But what’s great about a startup is that the company itself is new. The people you bring on board become part of the culture from the very beginning. You can bring on a Chief Marketing Officer, for example who has marketing experience and use their expertise while getting them accustomed to your company’s culture. That’s more difficult in an established company.
But for startups this isn’t a free pass for hiring just anyone with a good track record. It’s important to hire people that share the company’s values, worldview and outlook.
The last company I worked for was very deliberate about hiring. They took their time (often months and even over a year) to hire for certain positions. They wanted to make sure that they hired people that fit with the culture. They knew they could train the intricacies of the business, but they needed the right person to fit in with the company and with the right drive to learn how the company operated.
Creating A Pipeline
The Packers have a really interesting pipeline throughout their organization.
I first think of the scouting department. From the outside it seems like they bring in people that start as scouting interns. From there they slowly move up the ranks. Rarely do people skip levels in the scouting department.
Even Ted Thompson, current GM, started as a scouting intern and he was about 40 years old when he joined the team after a 10-year career as a player and spending some time at another job.
People come on board from the beginning and they work their way up. When someone leaves (retirement, moving to another city, etc.) the next person in line is moved up the ladder.
The Packers have had three people from their scouting department leave for GM jobs in the last several years. Obviously there’s only one GM per team so by the time a person reaches the top level with the Packers the next destination is usually with another team.
But there are some on the staff that prefer to stay with their current roles. They like being area scouts instead of climbing all the way to GM. And that’s totally fine. More on that in a second.
The coaching staff is much the same way. Coaches move up. Some get hired by other teams and when that happens it’s usually another coach on the staff that moves up the ladder.
It’s even that way with the team. A first round draft pick may start right away, but others often start as backups. They learn the ropes for a couple years and when older players retire or leave for another team the younger player steps in.
This scares the fans sometimes. It’s hard for fans to see growth from within especially from unproven players, but the coaches can see the internal growth every day and they become confident in their pipeline of player growth.
Successful companies are built the same way. Pipelines give people a way to start at the beginning and learn their craft while also becoming part of the culture.
Pipelines put the company in a great long-term position. It’s inevitable that people will leave for whatever the reason. Having a pipeline of people in place to take over makes the transition easier than it would be if no pipeline existed.
Knowing People’s Ambitions
When I first was hired from the company I mentioned earlier I took a personality test. And I remember just having conversations about life with my potential boss. We didn’t really talk a whole lot about what the company did at first.
He asked about my ambitions for life. He asked about my goals for working, for family, etc. He wanted to see if my ambitions aligned with the company’s ambitions.
I was able to ask questions too. He wanted me to figure out if my ambitions aligned with the company’s.
I spent five years with the company. I really liked working there. The reason I left was because I wanted to run a company of my own and that became Ghost Blog Writers.
When I was leaving my boss kind of smiled and made the comment that when he first hired me he always wondered if I would leave to start a company of some kind. Maybe that made me a bad hire. Maybe it worked out okay. It was a good five years.
But it kind of reminded me of the importance of aligning people’s ambitions with the company’s ambitions. It might take longer to hire people, but it’s really worth it when you hire the right people.
The concept of building from within is very much a long-term type of business activity. You’re looking at the lifetime of someone working at your company. You’re looking at the lifetime of your company…even beyond your tenure. That’s not easy to do.
But the best companies in the Good To Great series seemed to focus on building pipelines of talent. They hired people that fit with their culture and that had aligned ambitions. It took time to build, but those companies have had long-term success as a result.
The next time you’re looking to hire someone see if there is someone internally that can take the job. If not, make sure you hire someone that fits your culture and with aligning ambitions.
And after that take a look at your hiring process and see if there is room to implement a pipeline for the long-term.